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UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 15, 2015
COACH KILL: Probably think the big thing with us right now, we got a huge win at Colorado State, tough place to play. Did it in a way that we haven't done it, and coming back in a two-minute drill and scoring and then taking it to over time to win, and so now we build from that. We got places that we've got to get better and looking forward to getting back out there, make Kent State, and continuing to improve our football team.
The last two weekends, I think the team we played were 22-4, and I was looking at a deal, Paul was, I don't know if, as far as 22 wins and people playing back-to-back people, there's nobody that's done that.
So we've played some good people. We are physically beat up a little bit and I think the reason is, we played hard. We played really hard the first two games and so we've got to find a way. We've got to do some things in practice. Got to cut back a little bit. And with that, any questions.
Q. Injuries have definitely been the story lately. Can you give us any updates on Christenson and KJ?
COACH KILL: Well, I'm not going to give all of them, but Jon Christenson will be out. Had knee surgery on Monday. We're hoping to get him back possibly in four weeks, three to four weeks.
So he's out for sure. KJ was spitting up blood and everything else, but he will be able to go in a green shirt, so to speak and do some individual and he'll play, as long as, you know, things progress with him.
And then we have -- I won't mention, but we have two more offensive linemen that won't practice today, so we're basically three starters down, and we'll see how it works. Hopefully those two will be able to come back and play.
And then I'm thinking, what else offensively, we will get Isaiah Gentry back for the first time but we're going to be real careful with him how many reps he takes and how much he plays, but that will be important to us. But we want to be careful. We want to be smart.
And then Lingen had a concussion during the game. That's what's amazing is that, you know, Wozniak is playing as good and physical and he's playing outstanding right now. And then Nick Hart comes in and hasn't played a lot and comes in and makes a big catch, almost had two.
But offensively, that's kind of the gamut there and then defensively, Charlie Rogers and Damarius, I don't think they will play this week. We'll have to see but I don't look that they will play. And they are two guys, Daletavious (ph) and Kunle did a good job in the game. They made a couple mistakes that hurt us, but overall, they did a good job, and so -- I'm trying to think.
I think defensively, that's kind of where we're at. We're more healthy in two critical places on defense, and still play the way we did, was a pretty good feat.
Q. The injuries on the offensive line, will that affect how much you do offensively in terms of no-huddle?
COACH KILL: A lot. We've got to move people around all over. One injury on the offensive line -- Vikings have been through it, is that one offensive lineman can create some problems. You're moving a guy from guard to tackle. There's so much communication going on, pass protection-wise, etc. It definitely affects you.
But those are excuses. We've still got to get it done. We've got to coach better and so forth. We'll be fine. We'll be fine. We'll find a way.
We had over 400 yards on offense. I said, we had to do that to win games. We missed opportunities. Our center short-armed a snap on a quarterback sneak and they jumped a double eagle and he short-armed it and we fumbled the ball; that was a critical time. We had a punt return called back; that was a critical situation.
We were down in the red zone and made a couple mistakes again and we didn't play in the first quarter, basically, and didn't play very well in the first half.
I mean, there's some good things in there but we've got to play better in the first quarter. That simple.
Q. What was the moving Drew to inside receiver and what's made him come on?
COACH KILL: I think it's like anything. It's like a David Cobb story, he's playing outside and there's discussion in the room, trying to get the right people where they can be the most effective and I just think that's more his natural position. And he can focus in on one thing instead of learning this and learning that.
Like Eric Carter is valuable because he can play them all. But this gives Drew the concentration to focus on playing inside receiver which is somewhat difficult sometimes. He can still play outside. We can get him mismatched if we need to.
But he's caught some balls and he's blocked well and he's just got confidence. He's like David Cobb, you get a little success and success gets stronger and stronger, like KJ did last year. He's doing a real nice job.
Q. Your defense has been impressive. Is this defense, what do you think of it through the first two games and how might you -- has it got a chance to be your best one?
COACH KILL: Well, it's played -- we played better last week, even with the two injuries we had than we did the week before. Like I said, we had a couple young guys that played that made a couple mistakes that hurt us.
But at the same time, they were coming in and again the communication system back there in the secondary is difficult. But they are playing very well right now and from the defensive line standpoint, we're healthy.
And Steve Richardson played one of the best games I've ever seen a defensive tackle play. I mean, he played flat unbelievable, highlight video. I mean, unreal. And from a linebacker standpoint, I thought it was our best game as linebacker since we've been here. And we're playing nickel and then when they ran the ball, got two backs, we put three linebackers in there and they all played very well.
So that's encouraging because we're going to have to play three linebackers in the Big Ten against three or four different teams. That group played very, very well and Jalen Myrick continues to play well. Briean Boddy continues to play well.
We get Charlie Rogers back, and Damarius and keep them healthy, we've got a really, really good defense, really good. I think the head coach commented that he had been in the SEC and he said that this defense is like the SEC's defense. That's quite a compliment coming from a coach.
Q. What's the experience for Richardson --
COACH KILL: I think it helps any time you get thrown in the fire, and he got a lot of experience last year. He loves football. He's that way in high school. It's unbelievable, Frank Lente (ph), I got to know through Jordan Lynch and so forth and told me he was going to be special and of course everybody looked at his height and goes, uuhhh. You put his film on, it didn't lie. So he came in last year, played pretty good last year, this year he's not make the mental errors he made some as a freshman.
He's got a motor -- I don't know if you were at the game, but he made a screen pass 25 yards down the field, just on a receiver. So not many people can do that. He reminds me of Donaldson who played at the NFL and plays in Pittsburgh. I was at the draft and Donaldson is not 6-1 or anything like that. He may be 5-10 1/2, 5-11, but he's playing in the NFL. He's a pretty good player.
Q. You mentioned Jalen, does he get overshadowed?
COACH KILL: I think that's probably true. We play a lot of nickel and stuff like that and bring in all three; all three are playing but Jalen can run, run-run. He's the fastest guy on the team. And so he's getting smarter at the way he plays. He's gotten a lot better than last year not making mental errors. You see the way he plays. He's one of those guys that he's got all of the confidence in the world, you might say. And so he's playing at a high level right now.
Q. Where does the most work need to be done to improve the passing game?
COACH KILL: We talk about that a lot and say improve. It's better than it was last year, believe it or not, and then statistical-wise, you'll have to help me here. Knock-on-wood, Mitch has not had an interception in -- in college football. If you take, let's see, one, two, throws he miss, one at the touchdown, where we had the heart wide open and he had to jump to get it, and ball went on the ground. And we had a neck at bootleg, was an easy throw, didn't complete it.
We had two or three deep balls that he overthrew. We were trying to put it on his helmet so the guy could go up and get it. And then a couple -- you take about eight plays out of the game and we're saying, boy, tell you what.
Sometimes what you see and what I was disappointed more than anything with all that, he is our leader, and in the first half, we did not play very well. And as a leader, that's what you have to do. You judge quarterbacks on wins and losses. I've always said that. And the bottom line is, he took us right down the field and we won the game. I would tell you this: I think -- and again, it's affecting us with the offensive line a little bit, but he's probably the most comfortable when we're in no-huddle right now, if you look at his completions and things like that and running the show. That's where he's performed the best. And I think that's -- the plays are more limited and he feels -- he doesn't have to think as much and he just go play.
But with that being said, we can't do that all the time because of a lot of different reasons right now. But those are some things that we've got to look at. And going no-huddle all this time and working in the spring, I believe that's why we took the ball down. We're going to have to do that in the Big Ten.
I was excited, No. 1, to get out of there with a win on the road and I was excited about the way we played down the stretch. I mean, our kids play hard and they never give up. They fight their tails; end off and that was the most encouraging.
I said it on the radio when they interviewed me at halftime, it was a terrible first half. I'm an honest guy; it was terrible. Went one, two, three and out, just terrible, not good at all.
We had a little half-time conversation. And if we'd have played -- the second half, we'd probably have 500 yards and two more touchdowns. But we didn't. So we've got to get it corrected.
And you're going to ask me how can I get it corrected and start better. That's why Coach Kill has had long hours. That's why I'm in a sweatshirt and sweats. Better get it corrected. So that's what we'll do.
We have the talent. Rodney had a great game. We need to do some things that -- we can do more things besides running zone read and some stuff like that. We don't need to do it with him. We just need to get him the ball. And you guys were here when Barber and those guys, you just need to get a body on a body and let that kid play. He's pretty good.
Q. We've seen the success you've had with the no-huddle, when you talk about reasons to not do it all the time, imagine that's saving the defense the health of the offensive line. Can you share where you guys are at with that?
COACH KILL: I think that if I had a perfect world, I'd like to be like -- I talk to Shane Vereen during the summertime, visit with him. He played in the system with the Patriots. When the Patriots have a little bit of trouble, they go to no-huddle. But then they will huddle up. That's who I'd like to be. I don't think there's no -- I think that's who we want to be.
But to do no-huddle all the time, if you talk to coach college from the defensive side of the ball, it's a lot easier if they go no-huddle all the time, it's a lot easier than having somebody go no-huddle and then huddle up.
And so with us, if we can get it put together, and I knew it was going to take a little bit if we get it put together. That's a lot of preparation for the defense. Because you can do some more different things in the huddle.
And so we'll get there. We'll get there.
Q. A lot of people are asking about Demry and independent of Mitch, because we all know how you feel about him and all that, where is he, true freshman at, in his development?
COACH KILL: Good thing he's out of state. He's not in-state, because being in-state quarterback, I'm telling you, that poor kid, I mean, he's taking a beating. He's taking a beating and he's not a pro player, you know what I mean.
But with that being said, he's got a whole hell of a lot more mentally tough. He pulled down the screen -- most of this is supposed to stay in-house. I pulled down the script and the kids had Tweets and he had four or five Tweets that Tweeted out that Mitch Leidner can't throw a ball more than that -- that they kept and laughed about it.
So that tells me, you know what I mean, he's dragging some of that at his shoulders, but is that -- with Demry, the development is very good. He's athletic. He throws it very well and gets it out of his hands quick. Some of you have seen him. He has all the talent. He's put a little weight on. He's slight but he can throw ball, no question and he can run it, all those kinds of things, but he's still learning.
It's not easy to do. Just go out there and play. Things move a lot harder and faster in a game, but is he progressing and are we giving him a lot of reps in practice, yeah, you bet, because after Ohio State last year, you'd better have somebody ready to go.
He is a guy that has stepped up and has gotten better every week. There's no question, we've got to -- can't talk about, but we have another good one coming, too.
Q. Is Jalen not getting enough credit because Eric -- or is he sable to do what because of how good they are?
COACH CLAEYS: They are all three talented, and really, Jalen is still learning how to play. The other two's more experienced than that.
So Jalen continues to get better. He's playing better than he was a year ago. But he's not playing quite the level they are. He's got some things to learn. But he's better than before some of the kids we've lined up with and he has just a high a ceiling as those guys do the more he plays.
Q. What makes Richardson so good?
COACH CLAEYS: You know, any time you're strong and fast, you got a chance to be a pretty good football player, and for his position, he's extremely strong and he's extremely quick and fast. So that's one position that height is overrated.
Q. How much did you see Aaron Donald? Would you be able to compare them at all as players?
COACH CLAEYS: I wouldn't. I know who you're talking about but never really watched the video.
Q. When you saw him on film and you're evaluating him as a player what did you think of him?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, we offered him -- he's a kid who came to camp, and as soon as he got done with camp, we offered. You just don't see a kid that big be that explosive and run the way that he does.
Like I say, if he was two inches taller, everybody in the country would have recruited him. With where we've been again, our background, everywhere, we've taken kids more athletic and given up a bit on size. His was just a height issue.
Q. With Richardson, how can he get even better? He's only a sophomore and played two games.
COACH CLAEYS: Yeah, it's just like anything, you can't judge his worth on two games. I mean, what's a -- blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. So I'm not saying he's not a good player, but he has got to do it consistently before you start comparing it to other people in the room. So we're talking two ball games. As a young player, he has to learn how to do it every snap, every game.
Q. They have a lot of rushing yards in the first quarter and then you guys seemed to really shut that down. That were the keys?
COACH CLAEYS: That was a whole coaching encounter we weren't ready for. Just telling you the truth. We didn't work it up. Seeing the counter, wasn't ready for it. The only one we were thinking, play-action pass, and they hit a seam. We had a couple missed tackles on the one. So those get written up to me. After I started doing things a little bit differently, it worked a little better.
Q. Were those plays an example of where having Travis is so key?
COACH CLAEYS: No. They still would have worked. It was -- we didn't have a -- we didn't work on counter against and really had not seen. That's what's hard about that game is just not having really any video. They didn't have to run that play the week before to win.
After that, we just started doing a couple things differently. So they did a good job of that, and I didn't have our kids prepared for it.
Q. Kunle and Duke played. How did you feel like they played? And what kind of went into that break down in coverage on that 47-yard touchdown to put them ahead?
COACH CLAEYS: What happens is you have a breakdown in coverage and we're a split secondary. We got a free safety and a corner on both sides, and Kunle, he just gave the wrong coverage to Eric Murray is what he did. We should have had another overlap player.
Not that we would have stopped the pass necessarily but we should have had somebody else there to at least get it to the ground and tackle it. It was a miscommunication on his part. He made the wrong check off of a formation and it's part of being young and growing up.
So that's what happened on that. Besides that, those guys who had not played a lot before, really, I'm very pleased with the way they played and the way they competed. I was taking a lot of experience and a good player with Damarius, and Charlie Rogers played awfully well against TCU. And so put us in a little bit of a bind.
And then this game, you're going to have it. It's out of your control. As a coach, you get the next guy ready. I thought Coach Sawvel did a great job of getting those guys ready to go. We made a couple mistakes but what those guys did -- but at the same time, 95 percent of the plays they played, I thought they did awfully well against a good football team.
Q. Coach talked about what it's like for a defense to prepare against an offense with a no-huddle that runs it all the time versus ones that will slow it down and speed it up. How does it change thins from a preparation standpoint?
COACH CLAEYS: For us it doesn't because we don't huddle on defense. It's a matter of being ready for it when they do change the tempo. We practiced no-huddle every week and we don't huddle when we don't -- that change in tempo, not that it couldn't get you on a play here and there but there's nothing different we'll do preparation-wise.
You always have one guy assigned on the field to keep an eye on the offense in case they start to hurry to the line to let everybody else know what's going on. But as far as preparation goes, we're going to be a lot different.
Q. What are the biggest challenges Kent State brings offensively?
COACH CLAEYS: Different running game. What everybody calls the pistol with the quarterback off the line, about four to five yards and the tailback right behind him.
So it's just the opposite of the shotgun running game. Some of the run fits and how does it roll in the secondary, are different than the shotgun team and we haven't seen that yet this year. So it will be important that we do that. And then keep the ball in front of us. They throw a lot of bubbles, and then they have the fakes off the bubbles and the play-action passes. So we'll have to be on it with the run support, but at the same time is be good with our eyes and not let someone get behind us on the play-action passes.
Q. A couple of these MAC teams coming up. How would you gauge the skill position talent in that league these days?
COACH CLAEYS: It's a good conference. We came from that conference. I think that helps us with getting the kids prepared, because you had every kid in that conference been told he ain't good enough to be in the Big Ten, and then we play them all during the season.
So that conference, it spreads the field out a lot, and there's enough kids out there that can run. Sometimes they are different sizes and things like that, but all those kids at those schools want to prove that they should have had the opportunity to play at a power five conference.
And so they play with a chip on their shoulders and you've got to be ready to play or you'll be in for a long day because you'll see their best when you play in a MAC school and you're in the Big Ten.
Q. It sounds like a few injuries up front, offensive line, where are you at now in progress there?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Always a work-in-progress. Depth is going to be tested. You just do as much as you can early in the week, get those guys back ready to go, try and do as much mental stuff with the guys that you expect back but maybe can't practice at the beginning of the week and try and get as many of them healthy, get as many hands on deck as you can for Saturday. We'll be okay by the end of the week. We just got a little banged up. Guys need an extra day or so.
Q. How much do you just feel for Jon after all he's been through?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, it's a shot to the gut. When he went out, obviously you're in the middle of the ballgame and everything is going on, but then after it all dies down and you kind of find out what's going on, you feel bad. Any kid, any of the 120 that you have in the program, when something goes wrong.
But for a kid like that that just keeps fighting back and keeps getting punched in the face and keeps coming back, it's something that you pull a little bit harder for. That was a little tough. That was a gut punch.
He's such a great kid. He came out of surgery yesterday and I texted him. And he said, "These scopes are a lot different than other surgery." So he was pretty happy about that. If you can put a positive spin on that, you're a pretty positive kid.
Q. You watched Rodney Smith in camp and he looks different from other backs. Was it a matter of time before he could elevate himself?
COACH LIMEGROVER: One of the biggest things, like I talked about before, it isn't just with the ball in his hands, and that's such a huge thing. Now obviously he's showing that he's very confident because you could have a bad running back who can do some of the other things but when you start putting the whole thing together, that's when we knew, hey, there's something pretty special here.
And then combine that with the great skills that he has with the ball in his hand. It's one of those things where unfortunately he didn't grade out perfect this week. He had a few mistakes, but the increased workload and those types of things, I think that added to it a little bit. But he was pretty critical of himself and I knew there were some things he could do better and that's all you ask for in a kid like that.
Q. With Wolitarsky's progression, what have you noticed are the keys for him?
COACH LIMEGROVER: One of the things with Drew is he played as a freshman and with not having a lot of the older wide receivers, he's a guy -- and this happens at all positions probably everywhere, is when you want to get things done, you take your older kids and say, hey, fit in here, play there, do this, and Drew kind of bounced around, inside receiver, outside receiver. Did a lot of different things.
Well, early in camp, we started working him inside a lot more and said, hey, get really good here because we have some other guys who have come along out on the edges, and he was able to really work on that and then there was more of a comfort level now of going, okay, I really feel like I have a home inside.
He's a different kind of slot receiver. A lot of times you think of a little shifty guy inside. Sometimes it's not a bad thing to have a guy like Drew and his body type in there and that's one of the things that we looked at and said, hey, he may be able to do some good things for us and got him to where he felt really comfortable in those things and then expand it back out for him.
To say it was a huge surprise, what he did, isn't necessarily true. It was a very pleasant circumstance that came up and that he did what he did for sure.
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know, I don't quite know that one. That one is kind of an individual thing. I think that if you ask Mitch, he would say he's comfortable. He's comfortable in everything.
But I think what happens in the no-huddle is that everything just all the way across the board -- what's amazing to me about no-huddle is as an offensive line coach, we watch and we're not as clean sometimes in no-huddle than we are during regular huddling up and running plays but they tend to be more successful plays. I think everything kind of vanillas up and settles in and everything is what you see and what you get in no-huddle, especially if you're doing it fast enough.
I think that helps everybody. The guys up front, the receivers, you take it and you go to X number of plays, from a wider range that you're dealing from, and kids can go out, and as with anything, they can just play. I think that's what it comes down to.
Q. You haven't been able to score on opening drives since the Iowa game. Do you think the slow starts affect the team's confidence and what can be done differently?
COACH LIMEGROVER: We're aware of that and we put a lot of time into opening series, opening script. The toughest thing that we run into is because we're somewhat unique from everybody else, it's hard to know from week-to-week.
Colorado State in all honesty played us completely different than what we thought they were going to based on what they had done the week before against Savannah State and what that defensive coordinator had done previously.
So there's kind of a settling in and, okay, here is what they are going to do to us. I think one of the things that Coach Kill and I constantly talk about and we work towards is getting that adjusted quicker, seeing what they are doing to us and understanding that and going, okay, this is the part of the game plan we need to do go to and attack what they are doing to us earlier. And we are a little slow at times getting to that just because of some different things that a defense will do to us.
We love to go out and score on an 80-yard touchdown the first play of the game, but sometimes in what we are trying to get done, it's a little hard to know exactly what they are going to do to you and once you get it, you get the guys -- I think that's what happened to us especially in the second half, we were able to have a good feel for what's going on, make those adjustments and move forward. Now the big key is doing that even sooner.
Q. What stands out to you the most about Kent State's defense?
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know what, they do a lot of different things. They are not just going to be sit at home and play base defense. They get in and out of a lot of coverages. They like to bring people.
So one of the things you've got to make sure you're doing all the time is being very sound. You can't cut people loose. You can't assume anything. So that's always a challenge when you face a team that likes to wheel and deal a little bit.
So that's what we've been spending a lot of time on is make sure we don't take anything for granted and cut someone loose in a protection or leave someone free that can come in and make a big play and turn the momentum or turn the game around.
Q. Greater concern, the slow starts or satisfaction that you are finding ways to put together towards the back --
COACH LIMEGROVER: I think that you can take solace in the back end of it, but we want to play a complete game. The whole thing of being able to come down and win in a somewhat dramatic fashion, rather not have that be an issue.
So I think the slow start is definitely something that is top on our mind and like I said, we put a lot of time into two things and we're not very good at them right now, is the start of the game and third downs, and that's something that we've got to continue to put a lot of emphasis on and emphasize it to the kids.
I know Coach Kill says it all the time, you get what you emphasize. That's where now everything that those kids hear isn't the negative part of what we can't do, but, hey, this is what's important to winning the ballgame.
Q. Fourth and seven, game on the line, call big Woz's number, what goes into that?
COACH LIMEGROVER: He won the primary on that, which I give Mitch a ton of credit because they jumped all over the primary part of the route. Did a great job with his eyes coming back and fortunately saw 6-10 running there. Nate is one of those guys that he really -- Coach Kill was talking about it Sunday after film.
Our tight ends, even with Max's departure and the injuries that we've had, losing three, four guys, and then Brandon going out when he did in the game, and to be able to have Nate Wozniak do such a good job, make a key play for us.
Nick Hart comes in, second and 15, and has a big catch to get us into third and manageable towards the end of the game there. He came within an eyelash of catching the wheel route we threw to him. Made a great play on it, just couldn't quite secure it, and did a good job, was aggressive blocking.
So those guys, that's a testament to Rob Reeves, because Rob is our tight ends coach. To take a guy that was hurt in camp like Nick Hart and didn't really do a whole lot and to get him ready to go out there and contribute in a victory, I think is pretty remarkable and Nate Wozniak, a guy every year, has just developed more and you see more maturity and the ability to go there and make those types of plays when it counts is definitely something he's primed for.
Q. How much would you like to get Gentry involved Saturday and is there any update on Jeff Jones?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, in all honesty, we'll get updated on Jeff here pretty soon. They are doing some tests and things just to see where he's at. But getting a kid like Isaiah back, he's a guy that in all honesty, if he's healthy and he's right, he can help turn the game around. He's a big play receiver. He's a guy that can change that field in a hurry, and we're excited to get him back.
At times, I think you're guilty at times of pushing a kid because you want to get him back and they are not quite ready. I give Coach Kill and our training staff a lot of credit. They resisted the temptation to try to bring him back early. Wanted to make sure, it wasn't a little bit of good and then have a huge setback again.
They waited extra long so we have been chomping at the bit as coaches to get him back involved and now that he's gotten a clean bill of health and he's going to be out there, I'm excited to see him run around and do things today. What he does today and tomorrow and Thursday, as with any of them, gives us an idea of how involved they can be in the game plan.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports