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September 13, 2011

Tracy Claeys

Matt Limegrover

THE MODERATOR: We have Coach Claeys and Coach Limegrover. Fire away with questions.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: I think it helps from a personnel standpoint with having a new head coach and a new staff, them only playing one game. It's a little bit tough. We've been able to do our research. Personnel-wise we've got a pretty good idea of them. We're relying on that and then some past history with some of their coaches.

Q. Did they surprise you with anything?
COACH LIMEGROVER: New Mexico State? No, not really. Pretty much what we figured on. Going back, when we looked at the film, felt offensively as though we beat ourselves more than they did something to surprise us necessarily.

Q. Talk about the first practice without coach there.
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know, it really I think was kind of business as usual. Obviously it was on everybody's mind. But at the same time we kept it pretty regimented, pretty quick. I think that made a real difference. Got in, got out, got some good work done.
COACH CLAEYS: Went good. Don't mean to be cruel, but when you get out there, it's all football. If we don't handle things that way while he's away, when he gets back, we'll be fired. Stick to football, make sure the kids are prepared, give them the updates as we can.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CLAEYS: I was up there Saturday night. Got a chance to visit with him. I visited with him, Rebecca and the family every day.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CLAEYS: Yes, sir. They present a few more challenges. They run a lot of personnel groups. They have some kids who can run around and catch the ball. I mean, New Mexico State played hard, played with a lot of energy. But with the MAC, our familiarity with the MAC, I think in the offensive line, they'll be better up front along with the skill that New Mexico State has.
We'll have our challenges.

Q. What are the defensive challenges you'll face?
COACH CLAEYS: We have to keep from giving up the big play quite frankly. We played better on third down. We have to quit giving up the big play. Part of that is we're not executing our base calls quite well enough. So we're having to blitz a little bit more than what I would really like to. You do need to put some pressure and that. But it's probably a little bit more than I'd like to right now.
So have to do a little better job in practices for getting the kids prepared for the base calls and executing them.

Q. As a coaching staff you have seen Coach Kill go through this before. Was there anything this week that you had to sit and talk to the guys for a minute, Hey, he's going to be okay, put their minds at ease?
COACH LIMEGROVER: I think that's a big part of it because even though this isn't new to us, it's new to them. We need to be understanding of that. It's a shock to the system to see something like that come about.
A big part, along with preparing for the game, is also making sure the guys understand that things are going to be back to normal pretty quickly. Coach Claeys has gone through Adam Clark, our player personnel director, they've been getting updates to make sure they know everything is going well. We make sure they're up to date.
Then really the best thing we found in the past is business as usual. They're going to come in at 2:00, we're going to have PAT, field goal, punt, kickoff return, then we'll go out and have the same kind of practice structure. We'll be coaching our tail ends off to get them better.
We feel like routine, keeping them informed, but having a routine is the best course of action.

Q. Tracy, has this week gone the same way as last time?
COACH CLAEYS: Yes, sir, they're very similar, very similar. Time, patterns, all that, all very similar.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: I don't think it helps necessarily. One of the big things that we put a lot of emphasis on from USC to New Mexico State was operation, getting in and out of the huddle, not putting him in situations where that the clock was running down, had to make decisions right at the last second. It was a whole team effort.
We worked very hard, A, as a staff, and B, as an offense that that part we helped him with. I think his decision making got better last week. We need to continue to do that and need to make sure as coaches that we're putting not just him but all of our guys who can make plays in the position to make those plays.
We'd like the process to be sped up, but it's a learning process. We feel like we had a better idea going into New Mexico State. Now we're trying to build on that as we head into Miami.

Q. Where do both of you feel the mood or the spirit is of this football team collectively right now?
COACH CLAEYS: We haven't seen them since Sunday. The kids are around.
I can tell you this. When we watched film on Sunday, it was awesome, how well film sessions go. Those kids want to do well. They worked their tails off. Asked questions. Hell, it's important to them. It's up to us as coaches to keep getting after them.
They had a great attitude on Sunday, worked hard at practice. I expect the same thing today.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: It's hard to say. It wasn't an ideal situation. The hardest part about the whole deal was separating yourself from being a coach and being a friend. It's well noted how much time we've all spent together.
It was kind of tough to say, Myself or the rest of the offensive coaches were going to turn off what's going on, look towards that play. I think it was tough for the kids, as well. Eventually you have to do that, and we did, felt like we had a call that was going to give us a chance to get that first down.
I think there was some momentum that had been built up. I think it got squashed a little bit. But give credit to New Mexico State. They covered some people up. MarQueis didn't have a throw, so...

Q. Coach Kill has never missed a game. Are you preparing as if it's going to be business as usual?
COACH CLAEYS: There's a plan there in place in case he doesn't. I would be totally shocked. He showed up every time. I will be shocked if he's not there.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: We wanted to try and get some more speed on the perimeter. So some of the things that he was doing when he was split out went to Malcolm Moulton and Marcus Jones. To be honest with you, Collin McGarry had himself a real nice game. Beyond the touchdown catch, he did some other things where he really got going as an on-the-line tight end, stuck with him. He really performed well. One of our players of the game.
It was kind of a combination of several things. We're going to keep working to make sure that Eric is part of what we're doing, so...

Q. If coach is unavailable, who will be the head coach? Can you talk about how this group has been together so long that if anything happened to one of you guys, because you have the cohesiveness, everybody has had each other's back all these years, how much easier is it to get through situations like this?
COACH CLAEYS: Well, the first part, I don't know. I mean, me and Matt have been with coach the longest, so between the two of us, we would get it worked out. I can tell you there wouldn't be any drastic changes the way the game goes. I don't believe in changing everything. If we have to make a change, making everybody change how they do things, I don't believe in that. It would be very minimal, that part.
Besides missing him at the game, I mean, I don't know that there would be a lot of procedural things that would be different.
COACH LIMEGROVER: Basically at some point there's got to be somebody that kind of leads. Tracy is that guy. If we're in a situation where we might be in four-down territory, I'm going to turn to him and say, How you feeling on this? Should we think four downs? If we don't get it there, are we going to punt? Eventually you need somebody. You can't have it being debate class when you get down to key situations.
In the past, it's never really come up, but the process has been that we would discuss pregame what some of those decisions might be. But eventually you got to defer to somebody, so...
COACH CLAEYS: I've been with him the longest, so if I screw something up, hopefully he won't fire me (smiling).

Q. The uniqueness of this group, how you have been together so long, has to make problems like this easier for everybody to deal with.
COACH CLAEYS: Yeah, I worry about people thinking we take it ho-hum, business as usual. We have been through the situation before. Everybody knows the job they got to do. That's one great thing about working with coach. He has a little manual. They're all lined out to the T what's expected of you, what your job is. We follow them.
Because he's not here, it's still his football team. We're still doing it the exact same way he wants it to be done. If we didn't do that, we wouldn't have a job when he got back. That plan has worked. We've been successful everywhere we've been. We don't plan on deviating from that at all.
It does help that so much of us have come together. We don't spend near as much in meetings. We can spend more time preparing the kids and working on football.

Q. (Question regarding film.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: Yeah, I've had a chance to take a look at it. It's hard to watch. It was a tough game all the way around. But I think the one thing in taking a look at it is you have the assumption that they're taking a look at it, looking at things that they were successful doing, even though the coaching staff isn't the same. You try to look at it and go, Okay, where did they get us? Where were they able to penetrate us, so to speak? You make sure that you're prepared for those things.
Even though this is a new group and we're doing things a little bit differently, there's still that thought that they know, hey, there were some things that worked and they have access to that tape then and there. We've taken a look at it once, have some ideas on things.
It's hard. It's an unknown. You just aren't a hundred percent sure what you're going to get out there.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CLAEYS: Not very much, to be honest with you. I used to, when I was younger, let that stuff bother you forever. I had a good friend of mine tell me that the sun doesn't shine on the same dog's butt every day. Sometimes things just happen and you can't worry about it, you move on to the next one or it will affect your next game or what happens next.
You can't let one loss turn into another one. Our first year at Southern, we were 1-10. Since then I've learned, after talking to people, you let it go. Each week is different. You got to get prepared. That's your job, to perform the best you can that next week.
Where Matt has looked at the film, I have not looked at the film. We remember their personnel, went back and looked at their notes. I don't get a big kick out of going back and watching that myself. It helps us from a personnel standpoint, we know what kind of kids we're going up against. We know what we're going up against at Northern.

Q. What was the biggest thing you were disappointed about Saturday's game?
COACH CLAEYS: I was disappointed we didn't come out with a lot of aggressiveness. We had guys that were catching rather than delivering the blow. That's why they were able to take the ball down the field and then score. I don't know if that shocked everybody or not. I was really disappointed we didn't play better downhill football and get after people from the very beginning.
Those are things we've talked about as a staff of what we can do in practice or what we can do to get them out of the gate. Then, like I say, in order to feel like we have to get them going, we're having to blitz a little bit more than what I'd like, taking a few more chances. I was definitely disappointed with the way we started. I thought we would start a lot better.
That's my responsibility. Hell, I got to figure out what's going on there. That's my job.

Q. (Question regarding Southern Cal.)
COACH CLAEYS: I think it's a struggle every week in college football now. With all the media and everything, I think kids compare scores. I think they try to make up their mind before the game is played. I believe that.
So we harp all the time, It's not who you play, it's how you play. You got to go through that process every week. Everybody has scholarships so everybody has some decent players. You can't blow anybody off.
We've been in that situation, playing underdog on the road. The longer that game goes, the more confidence you get out of it. I don't think there's any question, that's a part of learning how to win. You got to go through that process to prepare yourself no matter who you play or what the score was last week.
So that's all part of changing the culture and learning how to win. But, yeah, I think there's a good possibility that's what happened.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: He's healthy, ready to go. The injury he had that he has recovered from, it put him back. With having 15 practices in the spring, then jumping right into fall camp, it's tough when you miss seven, eight practices in there. There's just a ton of learning that has to go on.
He's gotten better every week, did a better job last week. There's a lot that goes into it than carrying the football at runningback. We want to make sure he's comfortable with all the things we need him to do before we trot him out there on multiple plays.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: Well, I think there was some improvement along the way. I think we pared some things down for both guys to make sure they felt comfortable in what they were doing. I think there was a higher level of comfort, particularly with MarQueis. That's a big priority with us, is making sure that whichever of those guys go in, they feel comfortable with what we're doing.
We felt that way at USC, but also kind of realized that the whole environment and the whole scene was a little overwhelming. When we pared it down a little bit, we felt that gave both those guys, but particularly MarQueis, a better chance to be successful.
We've got to be able to run the ball better, other than him, to help him out. That's a huge thing. That's a point of emphasis, so...

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH LIMEGROVER: You know, definitely not up to where they need to be. They're well aware of that. I think we're too inconsistent. The three seniors inside need to have that consistency. Got two pups on the edge and those three seniors inside.
We talked about it. Any good offense, there are some times when they're going to take away one element or the other. You've got to be able to rely on that offensive line to get you through those times. We haven't gotten to that point yet.
It's an everyday, we're going to go out, work our tail ends off today and work to get better, so...

Q. (Question regarding the mindset.)
COACH CLAEYS: I think it is just because the MAC and the Big Ten are in the same regional area. Basically those kids have been told they're not good enough to play Big Ten football. So, yeah, I think they come in wanting to prove.
The big thing there is they may not be ready to play the Big Ten when they're coming out of high school, because a lot of them haven't developed. There's several of those kids by the time they're juniors, growing, they do have the ability to play in the Big Ten once they're an upperclassmen. They weren't a finished product coming out of high school.

Q. When coach does come back, is there anything you can do as a staff to help him?
COACH CLAEYS: Boy, I suppose we'll sit down and talk about it. We never have in the past. He pretty much has set the tempo. But we'll definitely have a long meeting once he gets back and talk about everything, make sure it's all laid out. That's always been the case.
I haven't yet told him what to do (laughter). There's only a few people on campus that can probably do that, and that's it.

Q. When you met with him, did you talk football in preparation for Miami?
COACH CLAEYS: He asked how the kids are. It's not so much preparing. He knows we'll get the kids prepared. Those kids are really important to him, they really are. He wants to make sure they're doing okay. That's why he feels bad.

Q. What are his spirits like?
COACH CLAEYS: You know, I'll just say similar, okay, similar. Obviously there's some frustration involved in it a little bit. Also, he definitely lets it be known he's ready to be back and right now. I think that Doc Smith put it best, when you have him caged up, can do some things, you need to do it, because once he's out, he's going to hit it full stride again. They're just making sure, that's all.
Obviously there will be some frustration. He loves being around the kids. We love having him around the staff. We're friends. That's all there is to it. It's hard not having him around, too.

Q. Has he watched the video?
COACH CLAEYS: He would if he could. That's one thing I think Rebecca would get rid of me if I took video up there for him to watch. I wouldn't do that (smiling).

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH CLAEYS: The one touchdown we gave up this last week, they put all wide receivers in the game and no runningbacks, five wides. That's hard. All of a sudden if you try to get in a man situation, you got linebackers playing on wide receivers, and that's not a good deal. That's the one play that caught us off guard. But that is part of their package. They have five different personnel packages. It's a matter of preparing for those five in a week, and they change them out pretty quick, so that's the challenge.
It's hard to simulate that in practice, getting people in and off the field when you have work teams and all that. I'm really worried about that to start the game, just the tempo of the game, how fast they change the tempos. You're going to see a lot of empty backfield sets. Those all take special adjustments. A lot of stuff he did at Michigan State. That's what they're trying to do. We've studied video. All the empty sets and substitutions will be the things that are our challenge this week, how he had handle those things.

Q. Were there any areas that you felt were significantly improved from the USC game to New Mexico State?
COACH CLAEYS: I know defensively third downs, we played much better on third downs. At the same time we didn't stop the run as well as we had before. But I just believe you play well on third downs and don't give up big plays, you have a chance to get off the field.
We have to get the other part of the equation taken care of. We're just giving up too many big plays right now. Once we get that solved, and part of those big plays, hey, they're kids wanting to make plays, they need to understand where they fit in, which plays are theirs and which ones aren't. That's what we're battling now.
Sometimes kids want to do too much. When you're new, new place, you get into the games, it would be easy if it was the same person or same position all the time. It seems like every time you start something new, you're starting out, this play it's the D-line, then this play it's the secondary. It's like popcorn going off, you don't know which one to do. If it was always one position, that's easy to correct.
It's a matter of getting in the video, showing them that we're a little different. We show them all as a group, point out the mistakes with them all in the same room because we're all accountable to them. When they put five wides in, I could have made a better call than what I made. I take responsibility for that. So we show everybody who's responsible for those plays, where they fit, who messed up because we're all accountable to each other.
It truly comes down to caring about the guy next to you and doing your job because you want everybody in the room to be successful. That's part of the process we're working on right now.

Q. How do you stop the passing game?
COACH CLAEYS: We spent time watching the Alabama/Michigan State bowl game from last year. That's why I emphasize how important the pass-rush is. You watch that game, there's receivers open, the quarterback ain't got time to throw it. I drops back and, bam, he's on his back. You have to be able to put pressure on the quarterback because there's too much space out there for guys to run around, good athletes. As we improve with the pass-rushing situation, your pass defense is going to improve.
I think Matt will tell you the same thing on offense. If you can protect the quarterback and get him time to go through his reads, it's hard to stop him. But then you got to throw and catch it, too. You get a team on a roll...
It's getting tougher and tougher. That's the way the NCAA wants it. Everybody comes to ballgames to see scoring, they don't come to games to see 3-0 ballgames. The rules, everything has went that way.
There's one play on there where they give linemen the one pass on the play-action. The tight end went up the middle of the field. They give an interpretation that linemen on play-action passes can go up to three yards up the field, okay? That's hard on a linebacker. He sees this big lineman climbing up the field on him, he thinks it's run, he steps up, then the guy goes by him. It is within the rules. Whoever decided an offensive lineman can run three yards and can throw the ball loves offensive football, he doesn't like defense. Those are the way the rules are, so you live with them.
Since we've gotten here, we've said it's got to be pass-rush to cut down the yardage. Second half I think we got more pressure on him. I think he threw 70 yards in the second half. I just don't like to blitz people all the time because then you're opening yourself up for some other things. Needs to be a better balance than what we're doing right now.

Q. (Question regarding talking to recruits.)
COACH CLAEYS: Most of them are. We didn't have one that is concerned. They can call you in the summer. One thing that coach is different on recruiting, he gives out his cell phone number to kids. They like to call the head coach. He's had a lot of conversations with a lot of them. It's the same thing. As long as you don't hide anything, you keep kids informed, they're comfortable with the situation.
We've been in touch with them and recruiting has gone great.

Q. Who takes over as the lead guy today?
COACH CLAEYS: I'll make announcements to them and stuff like that. After that it's pretty split, just like normal. You won't tell a lot of difference. It will be a little bit quieter. You won't see a lot of difference at practice, just someone to give kids announcements and things like that.

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