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October 16, 2017

Tom Allen

Bloomington, Indiana

TOM ALLEN: Welcome. Just start by saying that really proud of our guys, the way they competed and fought on Saturday. Heart breaks for them for being so close and falling short. But I had a real good time with them after the game, and then again yesterday, really just talking to them from the heart about what they've invested and sacrificed and how hard they're working. Just systematically go through and talk about the opportunities we have in a game like that.

But really, really proud of their resiliency throughout the game, to be able to come back from being down 13 and then making it 13-3 before half and getting a big stop right after half when they got the ball, make a punt right away, drive down and score, make it 13-0, and then just kind of battle the rest of the way. Go down again, as you all know, by 10, and then overcoming some challenging situations and setbacks and sugar cookies, as we like to call them in our program, and thinking to get the onside kick, but then we still overcome that setback, and then stop them, get the ball back, and drive down and kick a field goal to go to overtime.

Just tremendous fight, tremendous grit. Just love these guys, man. They just -- they're doing everything we're asking, and just got to -- you play a team like that with that much talent, it comes down to those critical plays, as we always have said. It just never ceases to be true, and got to win those and got to make those plays at that point.

Really encouraged by the support, had over 250 former players back, which is a huge number, just guys supporting everything we're doing, and really appreciate that, and I've got so much positive feedback from them and how our team competes and fights and plays so hard, and they're proud of them, and that's encouraging to me, and I appreciate that. That's why I sent out a tweet thanking them and all of our fans for being loud and being behind us from start to finish.

A lot to build off of, but there's no moral victories. That's not what this is about. It was about competing and putting yourself in position to win the game and then having to make those plays to be the difference in the game.

As you think through that, you know, and the game that we had played, we went through and evaluated the film. Luke Timian is a guy that we named as the offensive player of the game, just made so many clutch catches, especially there at the end, and just provides a ton of consistency, and really proud of his performance and how hard he plays.

I thought that Peyton showed tremendous -- same thing, grit, toughness, competitiveness, made some really key throws. Against a team like that, with that high caliber of a defense that you have to fight and claw and scratch for every yard, and really just kind of thought he did. He protected the football, which was a big key to us wanting to be able to control the field position and not put ourselves behind, and that was not always easy to do, and sometimes we didn't do it, but I thought he did some really good things.

Defensively Tony Fields and Rashard Fant were our defensive players of the game, and the thought that they both just did a great job at their assigned areas, and also thought that Chase Dutra played his tail off. He had like 19 total tackles, counting special teams and defense, and just played so, so hard.

And then special teams wise, both our kickers, Hayden Whitehead and Griffin Oakes were just on point with their kicks, and the field goal that got blocked wasn't on Griffin, it was protection, and ended up being a huge play in the game, as you know. But Griffin's huge kick at the end to put it into overtime was great, and he's just really continued to perform at a high level with both his kickoffs and the onside kick, he couldn't have kicked it any better. So had great execution at a critical time there, and then Hayden averaged over 44 yards and just did a great job of keeping that ball away from a really good return man and really handled a tough low snap there in the end zone and got that one off.

Just continue to be encouraged by those little things.

Scout team guys that we always want to recognize that do a great job, Tyler Natee is a guy that's working hard on that side to give us a great look, and Justin Berry, and that would be the offensive scouts of the week, and then defensive scout of the week, Andrew Stamm and Thomas Henderson, just two defensive guys, linebacker and DB, that have continued to give us a great look.

I look at where we're at and our schedule, and we're the only Big Ten team that's in our first seven games playing four top-20 teams, and that's been a great challenge for us and a great opportunity to be able to compete against the really good programs right out of the gate, and really been good for our guys to be able to keep them locked in and focused, and they've responded well to that.

And then the chance to play in a trophy game this weekend is huge for us, the Brass Spittoon is something that we take a lot of pride in. I know that over the years it's spent more time away from us than here, and haven't been able to retain it in almost 50 years, back-to-back wins, and so want to be able to understand what it means, want to do a good job explaining that to our guys in the morning, and have a great week of preparation getting ready for a very solid, very good team that's 5-1 right now, playing good football, and very well-coached. A lot of respect for what the Michigan State staff does with their program.


Q. Michigan State had a tough year last year; how have you -- what the big areas you see that they're different this year?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, that's a good question. I think first of all, Coach Dantonio has done a great job of not -- sometimes guys have -- they fire coordinators and change coaches, and it's a great lesson for all of us. He just kept his staff together and reevaluated things, I'm sure they made changes, and they have done some things different schematically. A little more spread style of offense than they've been in the past. They're definitely going to have their own personality of heavier personnel and power counter-toss, but more RPO type game that they've never used since I've watched them. Even defensively being kind of more built for that style of attack, I think, and so maybe more of a back to basics, making sure they're being more fundamentally sound defensively, and they're playing good football on that side of the ball for sure. There's not a lot of super star guys. Maybe a better team that plays well together, complements each other well. You play really good defense, really good on special teams, and you have an efficient offense to be able to score points to win games, and that's what they're able to do. They won 30-27 last week, and win by a field goal here, by a touchdown there, and that's kind of what I see them doing. They're a very blue-collar, tough, gritty team, a quarterback with moxie, that just makes plays with his legs and with his arm.

I think that their quarterback play has been improved a lot. I see the receivers being more consistent, and they've established the run, ran the ball really well last week against Minnesota, and defensively I just see that they're tackling better, better positioning, and they just seem to be working together as a team. That's what I see.

Q. I know they're different teams schematically, but are there lessons in maybe the complexion of the game that your team can expect facing Michigan State after facing Michigan just in terms of needing to be able to stop the run, needing to be able to control position?
TOM ALLEN: I agree. I think it's going to be very similar in that regard. You look at the Michigan-Michigan State game, and it was 14-10 and very defensive oriented game. I think very similar style that they play compared to what Michigan plays.

So yeah, I think you can -- you always can learn from having that experience, and now we're going into the next week with a very similar situation.

I think that's very true, and our guys -- we're still not as a whole team, got a lot of younger guys, and that experience last week and even just hanging in there and fighting, and coming back and seeing what happens when you -- we had a chance to teach about field position in certain situations in that game, and to be able to see the benefit of it and of the huge punt return and how that changes everything for us and setting up our offense and giving them good field position, and what the end result of that usually is. So those are definitely good lessons we can take and build off of.

Q. After watching with the benefit of film, do you still feel the same way you did about some of the plays that were reviewed on Saturday?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, don't feel any different, and we're moving on from that and understand that's part of it sometimes. But yeah, I feel the same.

Q. Is that something where I guess do you send that to the Big Ten, any of those plays?
TOM ALLEN: You do, and there's a protocol for that, and we did that, and we've had good discussions and very professional and handled it the right way, and just face it head-on, and that's what we've done. That's my approach, and I feel good about the way we've handled it.

Q. I assume those discussions will need to remain private?
TOM ALLEN: That's correct.

Q. You talked a little bit about Peyton, but going up against a defense like that, they forced a lot of three-and-outs, but he had a lot of clutch plays --

Q. The last drive of the second half, how do you evaluate his performance against a good unit?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, that's his first time playing a defense with that amount of speed and size and athlete six, and the scheme that they run is tough. I really -- I was confident going in, but I was -- you never know. He's a young guy that's going into that environment for the first time, and it's hard, boy. They're coming at you from every angle, and even amidst all that our O-line was stressed for sure but gave us some opportunities and held up. Got a couple sacks that we gave up, but they bring a lot at you, and I think he -- those two drives you just mentioned to start the third quarter and the one at the end just showed to me great amount of -- the competitiveness he has, the toughness, just the ability to make those quality throws in small windows. There's just not a lot of space to work in, and you're on a really short clock, you know. Sometimes you want him to be able to learn to hold it and make the progressions a little longer, but when you're harping all week about making sure you're moving the chains and not taking those negative plays and protecting the football, it's a lot going on for a young guy.

I thought he did a great job. Really proud of him. You know, you have a quarterback and you give him a chance to make reads, and those reads are going to be sometimes the way you -- hey, this is how it should have been, sometimes it's hey, this is one that could have been different, and you teach off of that, and that's the process of going through and helping him grow and develop.

But really proud of him, and I think he kind of showed the qualities that I feel he has, and that's why he's in this position. Really proud of him.

Q. Was one of those teachable plays the one where J-Shun opened very briefly in the overtime?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, and I liked the way we had him high-lowed. You had it right where you want. You had the call you wanted, and just, you know... somebody asked about him throwing to his left. Well, the ball was on the right hash. You can't say, time out, I want to put the ball on the other hash. So you've got to be able to throw both ways, you know. Now, if it's a two-point play and you get a pick, that's one thing, but you can't pick that, and you have to have the skill set in this day and age to get your hips right, and he does that all the time. But yeah, that was one of those right there, a couple of those reads, and I liked a lot of the things that we had -- I thought we had good calls, and you've just got to execute them. And he will. That's a great learning experience for him for sure, too. You know, it's everybody, everybody doing their job.

Q. What kind of situation are you in health-wise with Donavan Hale and anybody else?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, you know, I don't want to talk extensively about injuries, but we feel pretty good coming out of this game. I think the guys that all played have a chance to be able to be with us again and should be with us again, all those guys that were out there against Michigan. Don't know if we're going to get anybody back this week. Doubt that we will. But it's possible on a couple of those guys. So we'll know more as the week unfolds, and probably by Thursday I should have a pretty good idea.

Q. Are any of them potentially losing the rest of the season, or is it just a week-to-week thing?
TOM ALLEN: At this point it's week-to-week, yeah. Some of them I guess we'll know more as that unfolds, but week-to-week right now.

Q. The offensive line going against that kind of defense, did you like the progress they made? I'm sure there's still work to be done.
TOM ALLEN: There is, and that pick, but you know, seeing teams like them that -- they make it really hard. They do. And I think that we were -- you'd like to get some more things, yes, but we were able to put ourselves in position to win the game by the way the offensive line played, and that to me is all you can ask, you know, and so we still have a lot of the guys there that are growing and learning and getting better, and so I thought they had a solid performance. I really did.

When I go back and watch it, and you see how they -- some guys struggle more than others for sure, but they've got some of the best D-linemen in the country, you know, and really impressed with 73 and 3. I just think those guys are pretty special, you know, and have qualities that are very rare.

And so they just -- they create, by the style that they play, they create a lot of one-on-ones, both up front and in the back end, and you've got to win those, and then you don't -- you can't get as much help as you'd like because of the style that they play. It does put you on an island in some ways, and that does include the offensive line in certain situations. It can be hard for sure, but that's what you sign up for.

Q. Where do you think your running game is at this point of the season, and what do you think needs to half the last half of the season?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think when you go through and evaluate where you're at -- there's no question, we talk about the quality of the opponents we've played, there's a variable involved with that, and so you've got to be able to run the football. We know that. And we didn't run the ball as well as we would like to against Michigan. We need to, moving forward, but I just think that as you continue to build what you do and get better at what you do up front, that to me is where you just have to just continue to grow, and that includes the runs that we use with all of our backs, including the quarterback.

And so I just think that they're -- I believe they're progressing. I believe they're moving in the right direction, even though we've still got guys that still don't have the starting unit together yet, and sometimes you get through the unit and you never get back to that point, but hopefully we will, and so I just think that it's about balance. We've got to get to where we're balanced in our attack, and that's an area that we want to keep growing for sure, and got to run the football. Got to stop the run, got to run the football.

Q. When you talk about stopping the run, you guys have been pretty stout most of the season in that regard, but the 59-yarder was really well blocked.
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, it was, but man, we didn't fit that right. Gosh, that's one you want back. Guys that don't usually make mistakes in their fits did, and they know who they are, and we've addressed that, and it wasn't for lack of effort, it was just bad fits by two guys that are really good players for us.

You know, that's the thing, you look at -- we really stopped the run well for the most part. We have gotten worn down on some games. But a team like that, we held them to 50-some yards passing, and we knew they were going to have to run the football, and they get in all those big heavy sets with as big a guy as they have, and so it can put some stress on you. But to me that run and then the overtime run, neither one of them should have happened. I mean, I thought the overtime run was -- I thought it was a tackle for loss. As a matter of fact, I'm already doing this, that he's tackled for a two-yard loss, and then all of a sudden he's out the gate. He's got great quickness. He's a really good running back. But that long run to me just was a bad fit.

So we did a lot of great things -- we had eight three-and-outs. They only had 15 possessions, so that's over half their possessions were three-and-outs, and 2 of 13 on 3rd downs, so continue to do some great things, but we can't give up those long runs. We want to be the reason why defensively, and that long run, and then -- we had them on the 16-yard line. I thought that was a critical, critical part of the game. As a matter of fact, I made a big deal to our guys about that when we were starting that drive, this is our chance to flip field position, we've finally got them pinned down in there, and force a three-and-out, get a punt like we had done so many times already in that game, and for whatever reason, we just didn't do it.

You know, and so I just thought that that was a disappointment in our defense, and then in the overtime, you've got to -- man, we just kicked the field goal, we've got momentum. I just really believed we were going to hold them to a field goal. I just felt great about it and liked our call, and I'd call the same thing again, and we've just got to execute it.

But that's where you have a chance to show, hey -- like I said, we had a couple guys on defense that we count on heavily that just didn't play their best, and still were in overtime against one of the top teams in the country, and we're right there with a chance to win the game.

Once again, it's that resiliency, it's that resolve that we're going to have. We're going to keep fighting, keep battling, and I sense more of it in our guys than ever after that game and realizing we've just got to stay the course, Galatians 6:9, "Do not grow weary and do what is right, for you will reap if you think not." So we're going to keep on fighting.

Q. You mentioned Michigan State's run game. What do you want your defense to learn from what happened against Michigan State?
TOM ALLEN: Well, to me it's about discipline in your fits from start to finish. To me that's the lesson. We worked on them yesterday already just to review them, and here's the thing, when you try to do multiple things, those fits change, and so for me it may be one fit against this look and a different one versus another look based on my position, based on the call and based on their formation. So you try to be multiple, but yet you want those -- those things happen split-second decision whether I want to take it on with this shoulder or this shoulder. So to me it's just continuing to pound, to pound, to pound. You go through and you see their style of offense, it's different than what we've played. It's not triple option and it's not the spread offense. And so it's just -- you've got to -- now you've got two weeks in a row of working against that kind of look, and so you make your adjustments and you attack it from there.

But I just think that's the lesson learned, and I tell them it's always about the little things, fundamentals. It was fundamental fitting of a base concept offensively that we didn't get right that you do kind of from day one. But can you do it late in the game when it matters, and that's the key. You know, and that's the whole -- once again, it goes back to depth. Yeah, there may be some fatigue involved. I don't know, I'm not using that as a reason, but that whole component, keeping guys in there, getting a lot of guys playing, and then being able to get those fits. But to me it was just poor execution on our part.

Q. Michigan State has another defense that's highly ranked nationally.
TOM ALLEN: Mm-hmm, they do.

Q. What do you like about what they do?
TOM ALLEN: You know, they just play extremely hard. They play a style that basically takes away the run and kind of dares you to throw a little bit in a lot of ways, by the way they play their scheme, and that's what I like to do, too. I just think you've got to play that way and force them to throw the ball over your head to beat you, you know, with those less high-percentage throws. Coach Dantonio is a defensive guy and always respected him in that role before he became a head coach, and so I just think that they play hard, they play physical, they're fundamentally sound and don't give you -- there's just not a lot of creases. You know, everything is very compressed, and they contest the throws, they play the coverage that allows that to happen, and I just think that they're just a good defense. Good, solid, fundamental defense.

Q. Mike Majette kind of carved out a niche, five catches. Is that kind of where you see him maybe --
TOM ALLEN: We're still trying to get him back to being full bore for sure. Not quite there yet but getting closer, and want to get him more touches. I said in the beginning I thought he was our most well-rounded guy at that position with all three things involved, running the ball, catching the ball, pass protection, and so it's hurt us not having him in there, and hopefully he'll be even at a higher level this weekend. So that's definitely a positive for sure.

Q. You kind of talked about it last week, but just creating turnovers, and I know Michigan is really good on ball security, so maybe it's not the best example, but do you still feel like there's maybe gains you can make in terms of creating those opportunities?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, you know, I mean, I thought again, we had a pick that was overturned, unfortunately, and then another dropped interception, you know, that cost us. I thought that was one we got to make that catch. And then the other one, the third one, was a backer jumped in there and could have been able to -- that would have been a tough catch, but still, we got our hands on the ball. So just raking at the ball, punching at the ball, just continuing to fight and claw and scratch for those takeaways. They're big. They're big. We needed one -- we just needed one more to give ourselves -- it's just flipping the field, too. That to me is the biggest thing that happens with it. Just that field position game you play and those kind of situations are -- that's where the takeaways, especially if we get it on their side of the 50, that's huge for us. So getting those is going to always be -- the one that we thought we had and we didn't get, that's huge momentum swing of field position.

So that's really where you have to -- we worked on it again. We're not going to stop. So we just find different ways to do it and keep working and modified our practices a little bit to even add more of those this week. So we're going to get it right.

Q. I know they're different teams, but do you figure Michigan State is going to be really ready to play Saturday?
TOM ALLEN: Oh, there's no question, yeah. We're going to get their best shot, absolutely. That was a big win for us last year for sure, and their season went a different direction after that, because if you remember, they had beaten Notre Dame a couple weeks before that, pretty handily, at Notre Dame, and so it was an impressive win for them. You never know how seasons go. That's a big -- it's a big opportunity for us to go up to East Lansing at a place where we have not had a lot of success in the past. Tremendous opportunity and challenge, and so whenever you beat a team that you haven't beaten in a while or haven't beaten very often in the history, they're going to remember that for sure. Even though they're a young team, I'm sure that will be impressed upon them, and there's many guys that were on that field that will remember that. We will definitely get their very best shot.

Q. As far as your own expectations, where are you as far as grading your team now versus where you thought you would be before the season?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, you know, you go through and -- I'm not one of those that goes and says, okay, we're going to win this one, we're not going to win this one kind of thing because I teach against that with our own players. But when you saw and looked at our schedule and how front-loaded it was, you'd really like to be -- you wanted to get one of these. You play Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, you know they're going to be -- they could be top 10, two of them were. Michigan was until the previous week. And so really playing that caliber of a team, you want to knock one of them off. You do.

But to be 3-3 at this stage of the game, you know, you win the three that you thought you should, even though Virginia, they're 5-1 right now and playing really good football, and they were a good football team when we played them, so that was a big win for us for sure. I just think that -- but wanted to be able to in the Big Ten play to be able to get one of these first three for sure, and had our chances this weekend to do it. So to me, never going to say, hey, we're right where we want to be because we're not, but I do think we're growing. I do think we're progressing as a team and learning to play as a group and understand what our strengths are. We've battled a lot of injuries, way more injuries than I would have anticipated at this stage of the season, and it's been -- it's made it hard for sure. But once again, with all that being said, you play against a top team and you get into overtime and you've got a chance.

I'd just say that we are at a point in the season where I think that you take what you learned the first six games, and now we've got to strap it up and finish strong, and that's what I expect us to do.

Q. The Virginia win, how crucial was that win on the road for guys like Peyton and Ellison, freshmen, and now they've got to go on the road --
TOM ALLEN: That's right. I think it's huge, and I think that having that experience, Peyton played the majority of that game and really led us to that victory on the offensive side of the football, and we played well in all three phases, and that was a big, big win for our program for sure. And so I think that you take that confidence of knowing, hey, we've done that there, and going to play in a tougher venue for sure, but another road game, and I think you just kind of -- as the season progresses, you draw on the strength of the things that you've learned, and you hope that makes you a better football player, a better coach and a better team, so we'll definitely lean on that this weekend.

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