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UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA FOOTBALL MEDIA CONFERENCE
October 13, 2015
Q. With the new coaching staff at Nebraska, everybody has seen what they have been through, but what have you even on film so far?
COACH KILL: From a defensive standpoint, they run a 4-3. I think they will probably play us in cover one a lot and quarters. Their defensive line is very physical. I think they are more physical than what they have been, big at defensive end and then they have got the same tackles they have had.
Very disciplined on defense. They don't make a lot of mistakes. From an offensive standpoint, they run a lot of stuff. Very hard to prepare for because they do a little bit of everything in football. That makes it tough.
Very solid in the kicking game. So they are the Nebraska they have always been. We have all had -- if you have coached long enough, you have years where you feel like, man, you're just snakebit a little bit. But well-coached and I'm just hoping that they don't come out of that part of it right yet.
Q. How do you figure Michigan, handling Northwestern the way they did?
COACH KILL: I don't pay attention to scores busy think every game's different. They got a couple turnovers and things of that nature. I think they are playing hard for coach hard bow. But each week in college football, I don't get into comparing scores.
Q. What did it mean to have Jon Christenson back and how did he do? Looked like maybe as much or more availability going forward.
COACH KILL: We'll keep it the same. We have two kids that have knee injuries and Joe Bjorklund and Jon, and there's no way they can play 50, 60 plays a game, and so we played them pretty much evenly in the game which helps both of them. We substitute them more than we ever have.
Of course we played the young freshman at center. We played at the right guard, we played Connor Mayes and Foster Bush; so to keep people fresh -- I've never done that in my coaching career. I don't think Coach -- and then we stayed with the two tackles because we are very thin in that position.
But we rotated in there a little bit and it helped us. We played very hard and I just think the rotation took some pressure off some kids and kept some kids fresh. And we played hard. I mean, you know, we played with enthusiasm and our receivers played their guts out, playing from catching balls, more so blocking, they were unbelievable.
I just think that trying to keep people healthy and keep them fresh, you play a kid 60, 70 plays a game; and either Joe or Jon can do that right now.
Q. What were you able to do in the second half to open up the kind of holes that you did?
COACH KILL: I think we did some things in the first half. I just think that you start wearing people down, I mean, you keep running the football and sooner or later, it makes it easier to throw the ball when you're running the ball because guys, you get hit, you get hit, you get tired and I think by the end of the game, we physically wore out Purdue defensively and I think it was just over time. And sometimes that happens.
And then we come out in the second half, and get the opening kick-off and then Brooks breaks it. You don't see many runs like that. But everybody talks about -- he's a very, very good football player. Very good at tailback, I've said that all along. We just need to get him the football and get a body on a body and let him play.
Q. Speaking of Brooks, how did you get him?
COACH KILL: Same as Rodney Smith. Coach Anderson recruits Georgia, and just working down there. For whatever reason, he was under-recruited, got to know his dad, he's an athletic director, went to one of the schools. He was a late take. We've seen him live and watched him over a year, year and a half. So kind of kept a low profile on him, and was able to get him.
And then with Brooks, he's about 45 -- I don't know, 50 minutes from outside Atlanta from the mountains, and you know, again, you've got to see all (ph) the work, and Brian works at it hard. He was a 3-A 4-A Player of the Year. But for whatever, I don't know, I mean -- but we knew. We knew he was fast. We watched him and seen him live, all those kind of things. Knew what kind of athlete he was.
I thought he had a chance coming in that he had a chance to play if he was intelligent and smart, and he's very mature. Very smart. Him and Rodney got instincts, football instincts beyond most people I've coached at that position at this early of an age.
Q. With the injury, have you reconsidered anything practice-wise, like as far as physical contact or anything?
COACH KILL: We've done things differently but we haven't got hurt in practice. Charles Rogers is the only one that got hurt in practice. The rest of them have been in the game. Charles came down wrong on his knee and tore his ACL. Sometimes that happens.
But other than that, we got hurt in the game more than we got hurt in practice. We've adjusted to do a better job of teaching what we need to teach, that's for sure. But as far as the injuries and stuff, you can talk about that stuff all day and it ain't going to change.
So we kind of -- Ed gives us the injury report and we go out with who we got. Last week we're still working on it on Thursday. You do what you have to do and you have to believe in the kids that you put in there, and just like I told our team at the end of the game, it's about as proud as I've ever been as a group because I've never gone to a game where we've had eight starters out and Rodney was questionable before the game.
So to go out there and do what we did with the situation starting a true freshman center which I've never done, my hat's off to them. They played hard. Made some mistakes, but I told them, hey, you're going to make mistakes. Just play hard. We'll worry about the mistakes. We'll get them corrected somewhere down the line. But just give us a chance. And they all played hard.
Q. Any good news on the injury front?
COACH KILL: Damarius will be back, we hope. He'll practice today. Scott Epke, maybe. Gaelin Elmore we'll get back. We won't get either offensive lineman back. I mean, I can't count all of them. Craig James won't be back, broke his leg. It's a non-bearing bone, so he'll get back maybe in three weeks.
Charles Rogers won't be back. Briean Boddy I don't think will be back. I think he's a big question mark. We'll get maybe three back, two or three back.
Q. With rivalries that you guys have with Iowa and Nebraska, and obviously Wisconsin, is there room for more rivalries with Nebraska, because they obviously want this to be a rivalry game, especially with how things went last year down there?
COACH KILL: I don't know. We've only played them twice. I mean, I don't know if you can consider that a rivalry game or anything like that. I know for me, growing up in the Midwest and being in Kansas and getting blasted by them every year for years and years, is that it was nice to win just one.
I mean, I have great respect for Tom Osborne. He called me when our athletic director situation happened, and he was one of the first guys that made a call to me. I've got a great deal of respect for what he's done there and all the coaches before him. I'm very good friends with Frank Solich. I've had players that I had in high school play there.
So got a great deal of respect for their program. You know, you play Nebraska, and you'd better be ready to play. It's going to be a physical game. But every game from here on out is going to be the same. So you'd better play each week, don't worry about the next week. Try to get better each week.
Q. How do you balance, last week was so much fun, regaining your identity and running the ball. And now you're going against a defense that's considerably better against the run than the pass.
COACH KILL: We'll take what they give us. That's how we'll balance it out. Whatever player they try to take away, then we'll try to balance it out with some other things. There's different ways to do things.
So we'll have a plan for a plan to plan, whatever they take away from us and we'll have to take away something else and go from there. I think we have got about three or four things that we can -- or if we can't do one, you know. No different, defense has got four calls, four or five calls; if we're getting hurt by this and then they take that away from us, we'd better be able to have an answer for it. We've worked real hard. We had answers for last week if some things happened and feel like we've got some answers this week.
The biggest thing is we've got to play with great enthusiasm and we've got to play hard, and there's no reason not to do that. We're at home. We're playing the University of Nebraska. I think the game is sold out to my understanding. That's what I've been told, anyway. Maybe they just tell our coaches we can't get any tickets because we have been told the head coach can't get any more tickets. Evidently it's pretty full when the head coach gets cut off.
Q. What did Tom Osborne say --
COACH KILL: We talked about the athletic director's job. I was going to hire Tom but we didn't have enough money (laughter).
Q. How about the quarterback this week? Nobody's talking about the quarterback this week. I'm kind of surprised.
COACH KILL: Ours or Nebraska's? Oh, I thought you were talking about Nebraska's. I didn't know.
Yeah, I don't know, I'm thinking about playing quarterback this week since I'm from Kansas (laughs).
Q. Even though your preference is to run, knowing that this passing offense has had games where you've had to go through the air 25, 35 times a game; if you look at what Wisconsin had to do 50 times, just knowing that you guys have that in your tool belt now.
COACH KILL: I mean, it certainly helps us that we have thrown the ball. I think the last two games, Biachi (ph) was throwing over 60 percent, somewhere in there. Yeah, it's good to have that. There's a lot of different ways to run the football, too.
So I think like I said, if we need to throw it, we'll throw it. I ain't real fired up. We throw it 50 times, then I might have a heart attack. So I'm not going to throw it 50 times. Maybe 49 but not 50.
Q. Is KJ going to throw the ball more?
COACH KILL: He hasn't come in and talked to me about it. He probably wants to end his career one for one so he can have 100 percent passing percentage. But yeah, we did a couple things like that, and so I mean, again, I think they are good on defense. That's where their strength is right now. There's a reason Wisconsin had to throw it 50 times and Wisconsin don't like throwing it 50 times, either.
So a lot of people have had trouble running the football against them. But everybody in the Big Ten is good on defense. I mean, Michigan's good on defense. Iowa is good on defense. Everybody's not scoring -- you don't see the points being scored like it has been.
Q. Are they similar to Northwestern?
COACH KILL: No, they are different. Different, different scheme, and different philosophy. But they are all good. They are all, what I've seen, they are all good defenses. They are just doing it some different ways. I think they are 320, 300 -- same two tackles we played against a year ago. Maybe they have got a little better. Two big defensive ends. And one defensive end can really -- they are good up front. That's why they are stopping the run.
Q. Given the fact you were able to play with the lead, did that change how you were able to pressure the quarterback and get after them a little bit more the second half?
COACH CLAEYS: I think any time you get a team one-dimensional, let's you do some more things. Yeah, yeah, thought the kids played hard, played aggressive. Made a lot of those plays.
Q. Purdue went down and scored right away. That's been a characteristic of a lot of teams against the gophers, even going back to prior years. So often you make adjustments and control people or even shut them down. Can you share about why you seem to be able to make adjustments as successfully as you do?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, one, I'm not worth a damn at first drives, okay. I've been told that for awhile now.
You know, people practice all week to take advantage of what you're doing or what they think you're doing and it's hard on first drives. And so to the kids, after you see where they are going to go get you, I think the first two drives the first half, the first two drives of the second half, are the toughest to defend.
After that, you pretty much know, either a team, you know how they are going to attack you; and if it works, they will stay with it. If you get stopped, they are usually going to go back to what they have done in the past.
Yeah, I don't like it from the fact it gets us behind and we are playing from behind right away. Every time we've gone back, we've had chances to get out of it and haven't made plays on third down. But it's something that I need to get a lot better at as far as what we're doing on the first drive. It puts our offense in a bind from the very beginning when that happens.
Q. With Travis coming back, how can you assess --
COACH CLAEYS: He's played really good. With Damarius, he practiced half the practice last week, and so until he can make it through a full week, you know, there's some people more optimistic about that than I am, okay.
So he's got to prove they can practice three full practices and be ready to go, and so until we see that, we'll stick with what we're doing. But Connelly (ph) has done a real good job of stepping in for him.
And then, you know, having to mess around with nickel a little bit, too, with Charlie out, those kids in the secondary, Jay has done a great job getting them ready to play and at the same time, they have done a good job of doing what they are supposed to do.
So the back end guy, we have been able to win a couple games because of how well they have adjusted with the guys that we're missing being out, no question.
Q. How do you feel about Shenault's growth?
COACH CLAEYS: He's like a freshman. You know, some plays, you go, "what is that," and other plays, you say "great job." So we are trying to get rid of some of the "what is that."
But the kid plays hard. Loves to play a game of football. When you have injuries like in the D-Line last year, no different. Some of those young kids, you wondered what they were doing sometimes. But he plays hard and tries to do what he's asked to do. And all of us got to make the best of that situation. And so very pleased the way he's getting better, but he obviously has some things to improve on.
Q. After watching the film, what stood out to you about the secondary's performance on Saturday?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, we made a lot of -- I mean, third down, really, when you just look at it, on third down we played really well in the secondary. There wasn't a lot of open throws there on third down. Therefore, the D-Line, we were able to get a little bit of pressure on them and that. So I think the biggest change in the whole game was just third downs. After the first drive, we played really well on third down.
Q. People talk about your pass defense. Do you feel like you've made strides against the run this year?
COACH CLAEYS: I think so. You know, I'm more, I've told you, points and third downs. And to be honest, I don't even know where we're at in our running game, you know what I'm saying. I don't know where we're at, yards per carry. We try to get around three and a half. I think we were below that this last game. I think we were below three and a half yards a carry.
But I think we have played, but we haven't given up as many big long runs since Colorado State, which, again, I didn't do a very good job on that first drive. They hit us with a couple two-back runs that we had not worked on. But overall, I think we've played better against the run. Something I need to look at the stats on a little bit I guess.
I'm so much, when the game gets over, going on to the next game and working on those problems; really, I don't look back much on things like that. Nebraska will create a problem because we're going back to some two-back stuff and four or five different personnel sets, and that two-back running game, when you don't see it very often, is a lot harder.
So this week will be a good test of how well we do against the run for sure.
Q. Is this one of the better fullbacks you've faced, too?
COACH CLAEYS: Yeah. He's done a nice job of running the ball. He does a good job of blocking. They put him at tailback and some short yardage, and that's what's hard with them is all the different personnel groups. They run a lot of plays from fullback trap to quarterback counters. You see a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff.
Q. What was your impression of how Eric and Jaylen were able to shut down Yancy?
COACH CLAEYS: You know, those two kids are pretty good when they are having a good day. So took away their best receivers. And again, I think third down says a lot about that. I think they got three or four third down conversions on the whole day. Any time you do that, your corners have to play well.
Q. How far has Stelter come since he first got to campus?
COACH CLAEYS: Long ways. He was one of them last year that got thrown in the fire and had to play defensive tackle about 255 pounds, less than 260. Great competitor. He's added some weight and added some strength to him. Been very, very solid for us and for Scott to miss, Schuby (ph) made a few plays, also.
Q. Are you surprised how young you guys are? Coach talked about calling people up before dinner, and the more people that went up were the younger guys.
COACH CLAEYS: Yeah, we still played most of our older guys, except for in the secondary. We've had to play should younger guys in the secondary. But besides that on defense we've still been able to play most of our older guys. As you win games, like I say, you look at it as a positive because those kids have gotten experience and it will help them a bunch when it comes to playing.
So I mean, just stop where it stops and we get a play with kids -- that we are planning on starting the season. But right now, I'm really pleased with how the young kids have done.
Q. Coach Kill was talking about last week with all the late and early hours, the two of you put in together and how it was like old times. I know it was probably a stressful week but just seeing the results, how did that feel looking back?
COACH LIMEGROVER: It was rewarding. You've got to have some centering sometimes. You've got to get back and say, okay, what do I need to get done here, where do you need to fill in those cracks, so to speak, or find that extra little bit.
I think the Northwestern game was kind of that eye-opener that, hey, got to get back and do some things and put the time in. Not just with us as coaches but with the kids, as well. I mean, that's the one thing, is great, great effort last week by the kids throughout the week in practice. Because those things can go either way, and that's a testament to Coach Kill. Guys get down, especially on one side of the ball, the way things have gone against Northwestern, then there starts to be division amongst the team and defensive guys were never that way.
Guys came out ready to go Tuesday, and you know, it's one of those things where you feel obligated to make sure if they are going to give that you kind of effort; that you're putting it back into them from a coach's standpoint. Coach Kill and I had a couple early morning breakfast dates up here last week, and we were able to get some extra work done. I think it paid dividends.
Q. How much do you coach Brooks and how much is he a natural freshman like that?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Hey, I coach him a lot. It's tough to find a kid that is just that natural at what he does. And honestly, you don't say a whole lot to him. That's one of Coach Kill's rule with running backs, if a kid is getting five, six yards -- stop him, go, no, he's fine.
So in situations like that, when you find a kid, a young man like Shannon and really Rodney, too. You say, okay, we are going to let the talent take over and then we are just going to every once in awhile nudge them back online if there's something that's not going right. So you don't over-coach those ones.
Q. Is it a big concern now going into this week whether the offense can keep that focus with which they played with Purdue?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Oh, yeah, you don't want it yo-yoing and you don't want the guys to be complacent. I really think that Northwestern was a real good wake-up call for us. The road only gets tougher from he here, each and every opponent that's put in front of you, it's a tremendous challenge. We haven't given ourselves a lot of margin for error, so with that in mind, we've got to have the kind of Tuesday that we did last week, and then that's the challenge for us coaches, to get those guys ready to go. We tell them when they walk in these doors, get ready for practice, they have got to be ready to go, because that's the only way we are going to go beat a team like Nebraska.
Q. What do you tell us about Jock (ph)?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Jock's (ph) done a great job. He had some setback, had elbow issue in the spring a little bit that limited him a little bit and once he got to fall camp was getting back in there. As far as a young man that's a red-shirt freshman, I think he's really doing a nice job. He's a different kind of player obviously than Demry is.
So he's got to really work to his strengths and there's some really good things there. It's just a matter of sometimes it takes a little bit longer for guys, for those types of strengths to really come to the top. So he's done a great job. He's learned the offense well. He can run our offense, and that's a pretty good thing for a walk-on kid coming into his second year.
Q. You guys have obviously been high on Brandon Lingen, and everyone else got to see that on Saturday. Coach Kill's talked about possibly using him more. How does he fit in?
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know, Brandon is a kid that he's like a chameleon: Anything you ask of him, he's able to adapt and do. And that's a great tool to have in your toolbox, so to speak, as an offensive coach because of his versatility. And you'll see more of two tight end, two wide receiver sets, even if we want to spread things out because of the things he can do as a pass catcher.
One of the things, I think we caught Purdue off-balance a little bit with was we had Brandon in there in some of our spread sets as a wide receiver, and we were able to move him around and get him at the point of attack at times, and he was a big reason a couple of Shannon's big runs were sprung because we could bring him back in.
But then again, he gets out there and he's a legitimate pass catching threat. So it's great to have versatility like that. And you know, I don't want to compare the two, but there were things we were able to do with max that created mismatches that Brandon is working himself into that same category as far as what the defense looks at as far as what he is as a personnel player at tight end or what-have-you, but then what he can do.
So that's nice to see how quickly he's picked all that up and really there's no concerns with spreading him out, keeping him in tight, having him on the line and out on an edge. It's good to have that versatility with a guy like him.
Q. Can you just recall a little bit the recruiting process of how you indicated up with Shannon Brooks?
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know what, I was talking with somebody today about it, as a matter of fact. They asked me about it, and I think the big thing with Shannon is from an SEC standpoint, I just don't know if he passed the look test. I think probably coaches saw him on film, saw they was a good player, went by and saw him, saw that he wasn't 6-2; that he wasn't 240, and they moved on.
Brian Anderson, our wide receivers coach who recruits in Georgia and Atlanta, liked him, went and saw him, watched him. I believe he was a basketball player. Had a chance to watch him play basketball. Came back and said, you've got to trust me, this kid's special.
What's amazing is right after he signed, one of my best friends who is a high school coach in Atlanta, he called me and he said: "I cannot believe you guys signed that kid." He said, "I thought that was the best kid I had seen in the state the past two years." I don't know why it ended up the way it did, but I'm awful thankful it did.
Q. When you watch Wisconsin, Nebraska on film, you see that Wisconsin threw it 50 times, are you just like, what?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, you know, it's one of those things where I think that's maybe where they feel most comfortable right now. I can't speak for them but Nebraska's a good, good defense. And they are strong and physical in the front four and they are going to make you earn every yard.
And so one of the big things is, if you want to run the football, you have to keep them off-balance a little bit. You can't just dive it between the tackles and hope for the best. I think that's one of the big factors is you watch, and you get all excited. We were excited to watch the Wisconsin game to see what they did running-game wise and like you said, 50 of their snaps, they were throwing it.
So it did surprise us a little bit, but that's the way they chose to attack Nebraska. We'll be a little bit different as far as how we want to do it but it does make you think and say, okay, we'd better be very good when we throw the football in what we do and we'd better not just think we're going to two run plays and bash them and wear them down. There's got to be some other components to it for sure.
Q. How much does it help the running game when you have wide receivers who can block so effectively?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Well, that is -- there are a few factors that helped our offense on Saturday, and one of the biggest one, I'm glad you brought that up is the wide receivers.
And Coach Kill is always preaching to them, because you don't want to come to a school as a wide receiver and block. You just don't. I get it, they are kids. But what Coach has convinced them and what Brian Anderson has convinced them is with the way we do things, the better you block, the more you're going to get your opportunities to catch balls, because those things go hand in hand.
And those guys bought in. I mean, Eric Carter, KJ Maye, he was a grown man on a couple plays down there near the goal line. He's diving down in there at safety, throwing his body in there, and those guys will get rewarded, and they do get rewarded.
So it's a good situation to have when those guys buy into that part of it, because now our playaction game which is so important to us becomes that much more important. It's real similar to last year, Isaac Fruechte bought into the idea of going out blocking his tail end off in the run game. And towards the latter part of last year, we were able to hit him with some deep play-actions and got him more involved in the pass game because of the threat of running. And how he had done a good job in that part of it, it opened up some other areas. So those guys understand that, and Drew Wolitarsky and KJ and Eric all do a great job with that.
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