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UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 28, 2010
COACH BREWSTER: Obviously when you begin the season 1 and 3, there's great disappointment from your football team, from our football team and from our coaches. In my mind, I look at it and look at it very closely, and we just as easily could be 4 and 0 at this point as 1 and 3. In the three losses that we had, I think that we, as much as the opponent, determined the outcome of the football game, and we had opportunities in each of those three losses to win the game.
And just as much as I'm sitting here disappointed with a 1 and 3 record, we could be sitting here and being awful excited about being 4 and 0 and getting ready to start the Big Ten season.
Reality is that we're a 1 and 3 team, and that's very disappointing. That's very disappointing to me, it's very disappointing to our football team. But as I told our football team on Sunday, you know, right now the most important record is that we're 0 and 0. We're 0 and 0 in the Big Ten, and we've got an opportunity on Saturday to play a homecoming game at TCF Bank Stadium against Northwestern and begin the Big Ten season 1 and 0, and that's our full intention as a football team. We'll prepare this week; we'll be excited about our preparation; we've made some corrections.
And I said this from day one: I knew that we were going to have bumps in the road, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, very young. You go into the first game with 11 new starters on defense, playing basically right now with ten new starters on defense, and there's going to be growing pains when you have that many new players on the field.
But again, as I've said, we've got talent on the defensive side. There's youth and inexperience, but because we're talented and because we work hard, we'll improve. We've been very specific with our defense, with all three phases of the game, on where we need to improve, the things that we need to do to improve, and I certainly expect us to do that.
Again, like I said, we've got a great opportunity on Saturday against Northwestern. They're a good football team. They're a team in which three years in a row we've had great battles with. Three years ago we played a three-overtime game with them. Two years ago it was a last play of the game where we lost in the Metrodome, and then last year obviously we played one of our better games of the season and won a game down there in Evanston.
So our kids will go into this game with great confidence in our ability to play hard and play well against Northwestern. We expect it to be a great battle, as have the last three games against those guys.
But again, people have asked me, you know, what's the mental status of your team, this and that. Our mental status of our team is excellent, is excellent. They're going to take my lead. They're going to follow my lead, and what we've done, I think, as coaches is we've done a great job of making sure they understand that some of the things that we've done are unacceptable in all three phases of the game and made them understand that just as easily as we're sitting here 1 and 3, I think everybody in here is realistic enough to understand that we could be 4 and 0 right now. We've been in all four games. We've had opportunities to win all four games, but the reality is we didn't, and we've looked at the reasons why.
And so I think that's the most important thing that I can do as the head coach is lead the way for our football team and make them understand that we've got a chance to win some Big Ten games, and that's awful exciting for us.
Again, it starts on Saturday against Northwestern. Again, what we need to do defensively to improve is eliminate the big play. We've had stretches where we've really played well defensively, but we've given up the explosive play, whether or not it be a run or a pass, and that's the biggest thing that we've got to do to improve defensively is just eliminate the explosive play.
We've done a lot of things well on offense. I think the thing that I'm most excited about where we're at right now is we're No. 2 in the country in time of possession, and that's really going to serve us well and we go into the Big Ten schedule, our ability to stay on the field offensively and do some things.
And again, when you're 1 and 3, you get caught up with the negative. You get caught up in looking -- my job, also, is to make sure our guys understand that they've done a lot of positive things, that they've done a lot of great things so far this season, and the things that we need to improve upon, we will.
Again, Northwestern guys, offensively, it all starts and ends with Dan Persa, their quarterback. They're much more option oriented with Persa as the quarterback than they were last year with Kafka as the quarterback. Pretty much just a throwing team. They're more committed to the running game with Persa as the quarterback. They've got four runners that all play, but again, like I said, I think Persa is the key to making Northwestern go. He's very quick to pull the ball and run. We're going to have to be very disciplined on defense, pocket integrity, keeping him in the pocket, trying to eliminate his ability, because in all four games that they've played so far this season, he's been the key to them keeping the ball. And his gains in scramble situations, the quarterback as a runner, he's really caused a lot of problems for people. And so we're going to have to really do a good job there.
He's got some excellent receivers in Ebert. Ebert is I think leading the Big Ten in receptions. He's a very savvy route runner, and they scheme to get him open, particularly in the vertical seams. And so we have to do a good job defensively against that.
Defensively, again, they're very solid in what they do. They try and they do a good job of eliminating the explosive play. Very sound solid fundamentally on defense. Williams the defensive end really does some good things, but again, they're very solid with what they do.
As I said earlier, I think it's going to be critical for us to do a good job of staying on the field, time of possession in this football game, and continuing to do the things that we're doing, maybe add a few things, maybe work a little bit more, again, continuing to utilize MarQueis Gray as best -- do some things with the option game with him, add some things that we think may be able to help us a little bit and show them a few new wrinkles, that type of thing. But I think that's what we'll need to do.
As far as the depth chart is concerned, guys, we expect everybody to play in the game. There's nobody from an injury standpoint that we think -- that I'm ruling out at this point. Troy Stoudermire has been reinstated to the football team, and so he will be back with our team, and that's very positive with what he'll be able to contribute to us on Saturday against Northwestern.
Q. You mentioned defensively you need to eliminate the big play. It starts with being in the right position. How do you change that in a week?
COACH BREWSTER: It's not a week yet at all. We've been working since last spring. You know, it's all about execution, and when you have inexperience in a lot of situations, you have lack of execution, guys that have never done it in game-type situations. And so that's how they improve and get better is just continuing to work on what you do, believe in what you do, and I really believe in what we're doing defensively.
And we as coaches have just got to continue to work, me as the head coach and the defensive staff at helping those young guys get better and improve; be very demanding in practice that they execute in practice, because it doesn't happen on Saturday unless it happens on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday. And so we'll work extremely hard this week on being disciplined defensively and making sure our guys are stepping in the right gap and being in the right gap and doing the things that good defenses do.
When you've got a group of kids, okay, that are really committed, that work really hard like our kids work, you've got a chance to improve, and that's why we will improve on Saturday.
Q. You mentioned No. 2 in the country in time of possession. Can you expand on that a little bit?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, us staying on the field is obviously positive. And that's our mindset when we go into games is we want to try to eliminate, or just limit, the number of snaps that we're on the field defensively. I think that's no secret. I think every team in America would like to see their offense have time of possession advantage. That's something that you look at at the end of every game and see what was the time of possession, because I think that your ability to kind of impose your will offensively and stay on the field. So I think that's a critical stat for us as we move into the Big Ten schedule is us being able to stay on the field.
Q. Who's No. 1?
COACH BREWSTER: I think Air Force. I think Air Force is No. 1 and we're No. 2.
Q. Defensively have you seen good things showing up at practice that aren't showing up on Saturdays?
COACH BREWSTER: Yeah. It's, again, like I said, when you've got young guys, when you've got guys that haven't started in football games, they're going to make mistakes in the game, and experience is the thing that's going to allow you to become a good football player. Those experiences that we had in the preseason are certainly, I think, going to benefit us as we open the Big Ten schedule on Saturday. And we as coaches have got to do a great job of demanding in practice that we're doing each and every thing right and that they totally understand what we're trying to accomplish.
Q. How tough has it been to try to handle the criticism coming from outside?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, that's part of the job, and I understand the frustration of our fans, because my expectation was to be 4 and 0 at this point. I mean, with all my heart I believe we should and could be 4 and 0 at this particular point with our football team. And so it's greatly disappointing to be 1 and 3 at this particular point in the schedule.
And I understand our fans' frustration. I understand. But you know what, just compound that about 50 times, okay, and that's me. That's our players. Nobody hurts, nobody cares more than our coaches and our players. No fan has poured in what we've poured in, okay, to making this thing happen. But I do understand.
But outside perception certainly does not control anything that we do and will not have anything to do with our preparation and our belief that on a daily basis consistently we're doing things right. And at the end of the day, we'll be better for it.
Q. Have you at any point in the past couple weeks worried about your job at all?
COACH BREWSTER: No, absolutely -- that's ludicrous. I mean, for me -- I'm worried about our players. I'm trying to coach our players and help our players get better and win football games. I've got no time in my life -- I understand that's you guys' job. That's what you guys do. But that's not what coaches do. Coaches coach, and we do everything we can do to help our players and help our players prepare and help our players win.
At the end of the day, we'll all be judged. We understand that. We'll all be judged on wins and losses. I understand that very, very clearly. At this particular point, we've got eight games in the season. We're 0 and 0 in the Big Ten, and we're working like crazy to be 1 and 0 in the Big Ten on Saturday.
COACH BREWSTER: I'd say it was something that I thought about for our players, to help our players in their mindset. And it's reality, you know, I mean, that's --
Q. Are you saying you take two plays out of those three losses, you'd have won those games?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, we've had an opportunity in each game we've played to win. We've had an opportunity. There's nobody that has beat us to the point where we didn't have an opportunity to win the football games. But you know what, that's not good enough. That's not good enough. Being close, losing two games that there's not a doubt in my mind that we should have won, that hurts badly. That hurts us all badly.
But you know, again, with players, just like fathers do with sons, you've got to help them through and you've got to make them understand why we didn't win those games and why we're not 4 and 0 right now and 1 and 3.
Q. Can you expand on Troy's situation? Did you have a team meeting and talk about accepting him back?
COACH BREWSTER: He said he's got a message for you on Facebook.
Q. Will he play Saturday?
COACH BREWSTER: Yes, he will. Troy has come back and he understands his situation last week was self-inflicted. He's been very remorseful about the situation and how he handled it, and he's expressed it properly to me and to our football team. And so with that, we allow him to come back and be part of our football team and most importantly be a good teammate.
Q. Do you think it will be the same as it was before last Saturday?
COACH BREWSTER: It remains to be seen.
Q. What does Kim Royston need to do during the week for you to put him in the game on Saturday?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, it's so frustrating. It's so frustrating for Kim because, golly, he wants so badly to be back and be out there, and as I said, I just haven't been able to put him fully padded into a team scrimmage situation yet because I just don't think his mind is there yet. I've got to have great confidence that he's able to protect himself and take care of himself properly before I put him out there.
It's close. I know it's close. But that last step is going to be critical. Today is a big day for him. He's going to be out there in full pads and he's going to give it a go.
Q. Do you feel like you're facing an offense (Inaudible)?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, as I said, I think he's the key. I think it all runs through him. The zone reads, the zone option, the quarterback runs. I mean, they have a designed passing play, and very quickly he will pull the ball and go run if he sees an opening in the protection. And so he's a very dangerous football player running their offense. And they execute their offense extremely well. It's a very -- from a conceptual standpoint, it's a very well-designed offense.
And the fact that they're this year running more option really makes it even that much more difficult to defend, and that's where I think, again, it comes into play with us staying on the field offensively limits their opportunities offensively.
Q. Is it similar to how they used Kafka?
COACH BREWSTER: No, it's not, because they were not an option team with Kafka. They had designed quarterback runs with Kafka. And with Persa, they're running much more option.
Q. You had the special teams breakdown against SC. (Inaudible.)
COACH BREWSTER: Yeah, no question about it. What's really disappointing is we emphasize it greatly. But again, when you get in the heat of the battle and a decision is made by a young guy, you know, young guys sometimes will make the wrong decision, and that's what happened. And so what we've got to do is we've got to continue to work our guys in that phase of the game, with the kicking game, and make them understand that we can't get in that situation and make a poor decision because a poor decision cost us a blocked punt.
You know, last week against SC with the kickoff, I mean, obviously the kickoff hurt our ability to cover the kick. You know, and there was a lot of things Saturday night in the kicking game that we were really good at, okay. Eric Ellestad I thought came back -- he kicked the opening kickoff out of bounds, put a tremendous amount of pressure on him, and the way he responded hitting three out of four field goals, the hang time that he created on kickoffs allowed us to really cover, create a turnover on the kickoff coverage. There was a lot of really positive things there in the kicking game, as well.
Q. You've only had two sacks to this point. What does this defense need to do to get to the quarterback?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, again, as you look at offenses, are they set up to sack the quarterback? A lot of teams today are not set up to sack the quarterback from the gun with the quick passing game, and that's Northwestern, where the quarterback is in the gun, and they throw quick a ton. So what you've got to be able to do is just be able to try to get to the quarterback, create problems with his field of vision, get your hands up, bat some balls. Sacks is not the end-all for good defensive play.
You know, when you play a pro-style team, I think we had a couple sacks against Barkley, and that style of play where he's under center and he's dropping back seven steps and trying to throw the football, there's many more opportunities versus that kind of offense to sack the quarterback, and we did.
Q. Take away USC, the Big Ten schedule should be a lot more physical than the other teams you've played. How do you get this young defense to prepare for something they maybe haven't seen so far?
COACH BREWSTER: I mean, our schedule, we've had a good schedule. We've played good teams. And I think that's certainly helpful to us that we've played the schedule that we've played. And I think, as I've said, it's going to help us as we go into the Big Ten. But what we're going to do each and every day is we have a plan for how we work, how we practice, the things that we do to get our kids ready to play in the game. And we're just going to continue and try to do better the things that we're doing.
Q. The Troy Stoudermire situation, he had a different take on how your players will react (inaudible).
COACH BREWSTER: Yeah, it's the world we live in today. And so would I love to eliminate Facebook and Twitter? Some teams across the country, there's a couple, I think, have said no Facebook, no Twitter. But I don't think you can do that. And I think what you do is you just talk to kids about understanding the importance of making good decisions when you're utilizing electronic media.
In Troy's case, I mean, he's very remorseful for how he used Facebook, you know, and to get a message out.
So it's part of the world we live in, and so what we've got to do is do a good job of making sure our kids understand you've got to be prudent with how you use it.
Q. Have you been able to put your finger on what is different about (inaudible) and can that carry over into next week?
COACH BREWSTER: What are you referring to?
Q. Why was the team so much more successful against Middle Tennessee? The defense held them --
COACH BREWSTER: You know, again, against Middle Tennessee we had the ball for 46 minutes. I think that's an all-time record in college football for time of possession, and so we really limited the defensive opportunities that we had.
So I think that had a lot to do with it, the amount of time we were on the field and our defense was on the sideline. I think that was absolutely huge. And in the next couple of games obviously our defense was out there longer, and therefore we had more issues. And I think that's at the root of it when you compare Middle Tennessee to the other three games.
Q. Are you surprised that there wasn't more carryover? There was so much good feeling that game, and it hasn't carried over to the rest of the games.
COACH BREWSTER: I don't know if I agree. I don't know what your "good" -- we want to win football games, and that's the name of the game for us. When you lose football games, you feel badly about it. We came out of the first game feeling real good about what we accomplished, and then we've lost three games in a row.
And I don't know about there's any aftereffects or carryover. What we've got to do is do a great job in our preparation and get ready to go play.
Q. Do you feel like your receivers -- it seems like they're improving week to week.
COACH BREWSTER: I think that Steve Watson is really doing a heck of a job with our receivers. I think he's doing a nice job coaching our receivers and making sure they understand the plan, and then you know what, we've got really talented guys. I mean, MarQueis is probably as talented a wide receiver as there is in the Big Ten; Da'Jon McKnight is a really good player; Bryant Allen steps up the other night and really plays well; Eric Lair has played really well for us. So when you've got talented guys, I think you've got a chance with them.
But I think they're all a very talented group.
Q. How would you say the running game is doing right now?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, we've done some really good things with the running game. Obviously there was some disappointment the other night with our inability to convert on some short yardage situations. But we've done -- we held the ball the other night for 36 minutes, and we've done some good things in the running game, and it will continue, because there's a real commitment there to run the ball and have patience with the running game, so I think that's going to allow us to continue to get better there.
Q. Anything specifically that you can do that will prepare you?
COACH BREWSTER: I don't know, what was our yards per carry against Middle Tennessee? And so we've run the ball pretty successfully, and we want to continue to do that, and each week we want to try to do it and do it better.
Q. Sounds very much like a stay-the-course message this week. Will you be making big changes?
COACH BREWSTER: We are close, and I think everybody -- we're close, and there has been tweaks, there has been adjustments based on performance. We're not -- we haven't just sat back status quo and said, hey, it is what it is and this is what we've got. But I think stay the course is a great term, a great term. When you believe in what you're doing, when you believe in your process, which I do to the core of who I am, you're not going to change drastically. There's no reason to change drastically, because I do think we're very close.
Q. You've been in a couple close games recently, I guess every game. What's the message to get across on how to finish?
COACH BREWSTER: You know, you said it right there is finish. You look at situations, driving the football offensively where you settle for -- every possession is so vitally important, and when you have opportunities to score touchdowns as opposed to kick field goals, you've got to come -- you've got to score touchdowns. And that's kind of where we're at.
Every possession is so important for us, our margin for error is smaller, is smaller. And so again, we've got to maximize everything that we do because, you know, again, as I said, I think our margin of error is small. Our window is small.
Q. Is there a reason why it's small?
COACH BREWSTER: No, just like you said, every game we've played has been a tight game, you know, has been a tough, hard-fought, tight game that comes down to the end, and so you look at every single possession offensively, defensively and the kicking game and see did I maximize that possession; did we take advantage of every opportunity we had. And when we do that, we'll win those close games, and that's just what we've got to do.
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