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November 17, 2015

Matt Limegrover

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Q. Do you think in addition to all the other things we've talked about with Mitch, do you think his mechanics have improved over the last month or so?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, I believe so, just from the standpoint of, like I've talked about before, earlier in the year when we kind of had the revolving door and the offensive line shuffling everything around, I don't think he felt very confident. I think everything he was doing was off his back foot. When you do that, the accuracy's going to suffer, the velocity's going to suffer, and then the confidence suffers. I think that's where he was at for a while.

If you go back and trace his progression over the year, you can almost see with each game that he's improved how the mechanics are better because he's using stepping into his throws and using his body better because there is more confidence there to be able to throw it and not have defender's face mask in your chest every single time. So I think that's helped him from a confidence standpoint to be able to stand in and throw the football.

Q. How have the strategy sessions and the game planning over the early part of the week Sunday and Monday, Coach kind of talked about maybe some creativity coming in those situations?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, well, I think the biggest thing is there is always give and take. You're always assessing. We have one of the guys back there reviewing for a fifth time our game last week to see what Illinois is seeing from what we did last week and those things. Then expanding from there. When you're not doing things well, then you start looking in other areas. When you start to feel like, okay, we're on to something, we're doing something well, that's when you really want to focus on that. That's what's been nice about the last couple weeks is we feel like Mitch is in a good groove.

So it's like, okay, how are these different ways that we can get where he feels most comfortable how we throw the football? Whether it's moving the pocket, being in the pocket, quick throws or play action down the field? What is he feeling best at right now, and how can we put our best players in position? How can we make sure KJ's going to be in position to make some plays? Brandon Lingen has obviously become a real valuable target. What can Drew do for us, Drew Wolitarsky, getting Eric Carter back out of the back field. That's something we haven't really done before, and we started to do that more and that's helped us tremendously. That's what a lot of that comes into from the pass-game standpoint.

Q. With Shannon Brooks a teenager, a true freshman, how do you see him or maybe project him physically changing over the next couple of years? Will he get stronger? Will he read the blocks even better? Will he look at that or project that?
COACH LIMEGROVER: I don't think he's a finished product at all. That's what's so exciting about it. Eric Klein does a fantastic job. Our head strength coach, director of physical performance. He does a great job with developing the entire body. He's not just a guy that will get them in there and all they do is lift weights or all they do is run 40s. There is an overall package.

You look at the older guys. A guy like K.J. Maye is a great example of how his body has changed. He's gotten faster or he's gotten quicker and stronger from when he was a freshman. I think he's a great example. I'm sure there are more. But David Cobb was another example of that. David always had the ability. When he started dedicating himself to the weight room and to the preparation year round, I think that made a big difference for him. He even talks to our guys about that now, how important that is now that he's moved on.

I think that Shannon and Rodney Smith, those guys, any time you get a chance to go through it, and college football is a lot different than high school football, and whatever position you're playing, whatever you're going through, to go through that season and to feel that. I think he realizes, okay, as good as this has been, I'm pretty worn down here. I've got to be able to go for the long haul.

They talk about, I think, the one thing I hear all the time is between college and pro basketball they talk about hitting that wall. I think it happens in football too when you go from being a high school player and playing, and maybe you're not even playing second halves of games because your team's blowing somebody out, to then now you're one of the top conferences in the country playing week-in and week-out against very physical, 22, 23-year-olds, you learn those lessons.

So he's already talked about he has some work to do, and I think he'll be a different player come as early as the spring.

Q. No disrespect to Jerry Kill at all, you know how we all feel about him, but there is a feeling that the offense is a little more uninhibited now than when you go back to two years ago when he was on leave. Can you address that theory from where you sit?
COACH LIMEGROVER: I could see that could be something that people could connect the dots to. I really think one of the things is that it's kind of an interesting dynamic now with Tracy being in charge because I was always concerned, and you guys know, I've been in here five years talking in these press conferences about team game and taking care of what we need to do to take care of the defense and be team players. I think I probably said we need to be better team players probably a hundred times in these things. One of the interesting things is that I think Coach Kill always felt that way.

So that was kind of permeated down of let's make sure that we're not putting the other facets of the football team in jeopardy with what we do. And interestingly enough, with Tracy being the defensive coordinator and now the head coach, he's been the one to say, hey, go ahead and take a chance here. Go ahead. He sits in our meetings now and it's great because we'll talk about he was all in favor of Shannon's half back pass to Drew. He was the one that said don't bring it back on the plane with you, and coach was great about it.

Coach had a great knack for calling those at at the right time, those type of plays. But the nice thing is I think now with Tracy at the helm is that I feel like I'm dealing directly as him as the head coach now. He has a great idea as a defensive coach of what we're trying to accomplish. He says, Yep, go ahead, he's all for it. Hey, if you're going to throw it on first down, have a darn good second down throw or run or whatever, because you need to be able to move the chains to win football games.

So it ends up being the same. It's just been interesting the different dynamic in that area.

Q. In terms of whether a game plan might be conservative or not, last year every game for the division title counted. Is there any of that involved? Right now there is less to lose in some ways?
COACH LIMEGROVER: No. It has a lot to do with having a quarterback who every offense is going to revolve around a quarterback. What they're doing well. And then it goes from there to how well are you going to run the ball? How well are you going to protect your quarterback? So it goes quarterback, offensive line. So right now we have, I think everybody thinks, hey, they're wide open and what have you.

Well, we're throwing the ball more because we have a quarterback that's really confident right now and that's a big part of it. Hopefully it can continue, but we're starting to gel in the O-line with the changes we've made and those guys are protecting him a little bit. I think that has more to do with it than job security.

We're still in a dog fight. This group of kids, we want to send the seniors out right. We want to go to a bowl game. We want to win a bowl game. There are still a lot of things left there to play for. If we don't come out with a sense of urgency this Saturday, a lot of that evaporates.

There is still a lot to play for. There are still goals that we've developed and created and we've had to adjust. But it's still there. So kind of this, oh, what the heck. We'll just throw it up there and see what happens. We're working as hard between the young men and us as a staff offensively working as hard today coming in this morning as we did six weeks ago or this time last year to make sure that those guys have a chance to be successful.

Q. Is the free release of the running back, is that more of a continuity on the offensive line or is it more let's take more chances?
COACH LIMEGROVER: No, it has a lot to do with the quarterback. You can't free release your back if the quarterback doesn't have the awareness of what's happening around him. Because no matter how hard I try, we can only pick up five at the most with the offensive line. So when they start bringing the sixth or the wrong fifth guy, that's where the quarterback has to be in tune.

What's happened is as Mitch has gained confidence in a lot of things, one of the things that I talked about is that overall awareness. So when we free release that back, that puts a lot of stress on a defense. But you have to have a quarterback who understands, hey, this is what's going on. This is what's happening. We don't want to do it all the time, because like I said, if they bring the right guy, he might get that ball away. He's still going to take a shot and we need to make sure we're doing things to protect him.

But with the backs now, those guys, Shannon's such a threat out on the perimeter. When Rodney gets back and he's fully healthy, he's a guy that's so smart about where he needs to get and where he needs to place himself to get the ball, that those become really good weapons for us as well.

Q. How do you feel you match-up with Illinois's defense at this point with the way you're playing?
COACH LIMEGROVER: Everyone we've gone through, Michigan, I thought Michigan had an outstanding defense. Ohio State's Ohio State. Iowa, very impressed with them. Illinois's defense is on par with those guys, and I'm serious about that. Their D-line is like a total transformation from last year as far as those kids up front. I think they've got an outstanding -- one of their corners is outstanding. Their linebackers I think have increased their physical ability and their speed, so they're going to be able to go sideline to sideline better.

So I don't know this 100% for sure, but I don't think they're losing games because of their defense. If you go team by team and look at how things shape up, this is almost down the middle comparison. You look at our common game against Purdue, against Ohio State and how those things turned out, it's pretty much down the middle.

So I know Tracy's going to want our defense to show up, and they're going to need to have that same game from their defense, and hopefully we've got a few answers for them.

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