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OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
September 20, 2011
COACH FICKELL: -- our focus is on ourselves, how do we get better. I think that's the thing that we're going to continue to talk about as a team all week. People are going to ask me about the matchups, what's this. Ultimately a lot of your questions are going to come down to we're going to look at ourselves, evaluate ourselves, figure out a way we can get better as a football team, football coaches, get around our guys, making no excuses, whether they're young or old.
We're going to be around them as much as we possibly can and focus on how we can get better fundamentally so we can go out and play football like we know how to play football.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.
Q. Luke, you had a chance to look at the tape obviously. A lot of difficulty throwing the football on Saturday. Will your plan be similar?
COACH FICKELL: We don't know what the plan is just yet. We're going to have these guys compete. We have an idea what's going to happen. Until we see them compete in practice, see how guys handle situations and roles and different things like that, we're not going to make a complete judgment just yet. We're going to focus on ourselves.
We know we need to get better. We had a hard time throwing the football. We had some younger guys out there, that's no excuse. They got up on us, took away some things we wanted to do. When we get an opportunity to catch a couple balls, if we do it, we have a better chance. If we play better, keep ourselves in the game defensively as well, I think things will open offensively.
It all works together. I know when you focus on just one single part of it, it becomes a lot more obvious. You look at the stats, what your completions are, how many yards you threw for, it becomes obvious.
Sometimes if you do a better job around the ball, you're going to have better opportunities. Get one score, a pick, have a chance of a touchdown, now it's a seven- or six-point game as well.
Q. Why didn't you call any of your timeouts when you were late on defense in the game?
COACH FICKELL: We were going to call a timeout on the third-down play they converted. There was still a minute and a half to go. They actually ended up calling the timeout for us. We got together, said, You know what, we need two scores, whether they kick a field goal or what happens. The only way we probably best fit is to make sure we've got as many opportunities to call timeouts as possible.
Probably if I went back and looked at it, the one they called with 8, 10 seconds left, maybe should have saved ourselves 25 seconds right there. Once they called the timeout on the third down before the last four plays, we decided, Hey, we're going to need to save these unless we get in a situation because we're going to need two scores.
Q. You didn't consider it earlier in the drive?
COACH FICKELL: No, we didn't. We still knew we were going to need two scores. Our thought was if we're going to need two scores, we're going to need to have the ability to stop the clock offensively. They were running it out.
If we look back in hindsight, the very last one, maybe it would have saved us 30 seconds in our minds and maybe we could have got a little bit of a breather is something that I always look back at. Our thought was, Hey, we're going to best we can try to make sure we have a couple to score twice.
Q. You talked several times over the past few weeks of handling adversity, suspensions. You were presented with some adversity with the two early touchdowns, the big run right at the beginning, things you weren't able to do offensively. Were you surprised a little bit about how your players were not able to respond to adversity like that?
COACH FICKELL: Well, I mean, I didn't see a lack of fight. That's the thing that we're going to continue to focus on. You say we didn't respond to adversity. Now, we didn't make some plays. That doesn't always mean we didn't always handle it the right way. That's on all of us. We got to put ourselves in an opportunity to make some plays and get them to the people that maybe can make them.
But when we say, How do you handle adversity? I look about it, Are your heads down, are your shoulders down, are you not fighting with it? I think we did. I think we'll put ourselves in better situations, obviously, if it's not an 11-point game. Defensively we didn't handle adversity after the first touchdown. That's probably why they got the second touchdown. How do we do that? I sit here and contemplate, we have such an incredibly high standard for those guys and we preach it, that all of a sudden when something happens, it's such a letdown to them that it's hard.
Where is that, Hey, guys, it's okay. You don't want to think it's okay to get scored on, but yet there you didn't see the emotion. It was almost like, Wow, you could see the youth, they were shell-shocked they scored that easily instead of responding. We gathered ourselves and handled it a little bit better.
Q. Fans out there who are worried, you have a difficult schedule coming up, what's reasonable expectations for a team as young as this is and has had as many things going against it in terms of suspensions until you get players back? What do you hope you can do over the next couple of weeks?
COACH FICKELL: We hope to get better. That's ultimately the thing that I can't do, the thing that coaches on the team can't do, and the team can't do is worry about what's going to happen in three weeks, three months. For seniors, What's my draft status? Am I hurt? As a coach, What's going to happen in three months? You know what, that will eat you alive.
To me, we got to focus on every day. We just got done talking about it as a staff. We're going to be around those guys as much as possible, coach them up as hard as we possibly can, make sure we understand we have to get better. It's ultimately where you end and not where you begin. We want to see improvement. That's what our focus is going to be.
Q. When you watched the tape, what did you like or not like about each of your quarterbacks?
COACH FICKELL: Again, we turned the ball over. That's the obvious. We missed some shots when we had an opportunity to do it. That's obvious as well. But just the way we continued to battle. I don't know if I can point a finger, I didn't like when he did this, when he did that.
I know you want to ask questions about one position, but I think it's a whole. I think we help him out defensively, if we put ourselves in a situation, I think we help him out offensively if we give him some more opportunities.
But it was the way it went. He didn't have a lot of opportunities, either one of them, because of the guys locking up. They did a good job of that.
I can't pinpoint one single thing other than we got to get better all across the board.
Q. Did you give any thought to Kenny or Taylor?
COACH FICKELL: No. Who went with the week, who practiced, who was going. What were they doing to us that Kenny would give us or what were they doing to us that Taylor would give us? It wasn't something that they thought those guys weren't doing. It was a combination of everything.
They were doing a good job defensively for what we were doing. When you're down 11, you can't just pound it and run it, you need to make things happen. I think it put us in a situation where we didn't do a good job of handling it.
Q. The ball security issues with Braxton, was that something you have seen or were worried about? What do you attribute that to?
COACH FICKELL: I think that's pretty much something always with a young guy. How do you hit quarterbacks in practice? You just don't do it. We took the jersey off of him for a little while in our jersey scrimmage. He did a good job of holding onto the ball. Is it something you hope comes with realizing what the situation is? Yeah. Can you really practice it? I don't think you can go and practice and try to hit him. You can strip the football, make sure they're aware of it.
That's the big thing. We have to be aware of what the situation is. I think we had two fumbles all last year. I don't want to exactly tell you how many we've had already this year, but I can tell you it's almost three times or twice as many in three games.
We got to get better.
Q. You had success in that second quarter with Jordan running the football primarily out of the 'I'. As the second half went along in retrospect, he obviously had some issues where he wasn't totally comfortable running the football. Is that something you look back on the third quarter you could have taken more advantage of?
COACH FICKELL: We look back at everything to see what we could have taken advantage of. The situation, again, I think we can help ourselves out defensively. We're not down 11. We can put ourselves in a situation that can be better. The other thing is, Jordan cramped up, emotionally, first time playing in a while. So he wasn't all able to go as much as we would have liked him to as well.
It's everything. Yes, if we could have run the football, been within three, six, eight points, I think our offense would have felt more comfortable. We would have made them to do a few more things and complete some things in the passing game.
Q. Will Jordan be a hundred percent for the weekend?
COACH FICKELL: I think it was just a cramp issue.
Q. Luke, following up on what you were talking about the quarterbacks this week, is Braxton in the running to be the starter? Do y'all have a big decision to make in the next couple of weeks of what direction you go there? Can you see this playing out for a while?
COACH FICKELL: I don't know. I don't have the crystal ball. We know what we think. We're going to continue to see them battle and work at it. We're going to focus on day to day getting better. Does that mean we have to adjust and do some things? I think the most important thing, talking about the quarterback position, whether it's offense or defense, we got to find a way to get our best 11 on the field.
I know there's situations when you have to have different guys on the field, whether it's defensively or offensively. The thing we have to make sure we do is try to find a way that we can, A, get better each and every day, but how do we get our best 11 guys on the field.
Q. The way you guys were able to run the ball with Jordan and Carlos, was that a silver lining coming out of this game? They have a pretty good defensive front.
COACH FICKELL: I got to look for some things like that, definitely. I think the offensive line played well. Really, they did. They gave him time. They protected pretty well. Doesn't mean they brought a whole lot of pressure, too. In the situation of the game, what they could do.
There's some good things. You turn it on and you're always going to find some things that you can build upon. Doesn't mean we overlook the things we didn't like, I promise you that. But we're going to build upon those things we do like.
Q. How much of a job is it, coaching staff-wise, when you have a game like that, confidence with a younger kind of team to get knocked back like that? Or do you look at that as you're not particularly worried about that going forward? You're talking about improvement on the field. Are you worried about their confidence or do you think this team is okay that way?
COACH FICKELL: We'll see. We have to instill confidence in them and they're going to look for leadership. I think that's what it's going to come down to. We go out there, go about our business. We have to focus one day at a time.
Somebody asked, What do you think this team is going to be in three weeks? I worry about today. I'll worry about tomorrow tomorrow. I think that's the focus we have to have so we get our best every day. Will that bring confidence? I hope so. I haven't lost any confidence in them. That's what you do.
Hopefully they'll take that lead, us as coaches understand that's what we have to do, and we're going to continue to do it.
Q. It sounds like you have a plan at quarterback; you're just not interested in sharing it just yet.
COACH FICKELL: Did I say that?
Q. I thought that's what you said.
COACH FICKELL: We have a plan every day.
Q. Is there a clear-cut choice or you need more time?
COACH FICKELL: We got to practice. We got to practice and see how guys practice. I think that's the thing. We got to compete. We have some ideas how we need to go about it. The thing it comes down to is how do we become a better team, how do we become a better offense, better defense? If we're finding a way to get our best 11 guys on the field, we have to figure out how that is. You focus on the quarterback. We focus on the tailback as well. We focus on the middle linebacker as well.
Now, again, we'll see. We start practice. We got a practice here in about an hour. We want to see how those guys compete, how they respond, then we'll continue to make our decisions as we go forward.
Q. You don't see an overwhelming upside of Braxton over Joe right now?
COACH FICKELL: We could. If he could go out and make some plays on the football, we will. I still don't have a lack of belief in what Joe can do at times, too. We got to put Joe in the right situation, got to help him out from the defensive side of the ball as well as of the offensive side of the ball, too.
Q. Receivers. Were they not getting open as you look back at the tape? Were there not a lot of choices? You were talking about the youth at receiver earlier. What were they doing to take some of the options maybe away?
COACH FICKELL: I think when we had an opportunity, we dropped a couple balls which obviously doesn't get that rolling for you. We always forget to look at that, if you put some of those stats in there, too, for the quarterbacks. There were some dropped balls.
You got to give them some credit, too. They got up on the guys. They got some good DBs. Our guys didn't have opportunities to get loose and they weren't running free.
Do we need to get better there? Yeah. We need to get better in a lot of areas. We need to get open when guys are up on us. That's just the nature of the game. That's no excuse that they're young. We're not going to give them that excuse. We're not going to have that excuse as a coaching staff or as a team.
That's what I mean. It's focused on the quarterbacks, but we got to do a better job all in all.
Q. I think the TV cameras near the end of the game caught Joe Bauserman laughing or smiling at the sidelines. Is that anything that's an issue for you while you're losing the game?
COACH FICKELL: I didn't see it. I didn't catch it. I think somebody emailed me something about that. I haven't talked to Joe. I know Joe hurts every bit as bad as I do. Just like me up here, I smile and I show that I'm happy and everything's going great when my stomach down inside is sometimes in a knot.
No, that's not something you want to see. Whether he was disguising or masking how his gut felt, I have confidence that Joe hurts every bit as much as I hurt. We try and tell those guys, nothing goes unnoticed whether it's on the sidelines of a game, whether it's in a classroom, wherever you are having something to eat. Just make sure you understand that.
But I haven't noticed anything that would tell me that Joe isn't 100% with us.
Q. When you guys this week are making decisions about which offensive players will play or get more time, whether it's at quarterback or tailback or anywhere else, how much will that decision be yours as the head coach and how much do you leave that to the offensive staff?
COACH FICKELL: We do a lot of things together. We communicate and we talk together. I'm pretty sure it's going to be a pretty good consensus of what we think is best as we finish out this week.
Ultimately we understand that when there's a decision that has to be made, there's got to be one place the buck stops. I feel like we'll all be on the same page.
Q. In the Toledo game and Miami game defensively you gave up drives early, which I know is something that probably keeps you up at night a little bit. This Colorado team offensively has a lot of weapons and can do that. How do you make sure on the defensive side of the ball you're ready to go when the whistle blows?
COACH FICKELL: We have to be sound. We have to make sure our guys have confidence in what we're doing. We have to play sound. That's the name of the football game. Yes, Colorado has a lot of options, some serious weapons. We don't lose sight of that. We're still going to focus on who we are, what we need to do to get better.
We talked last week about starting fast. That's the one thing we did not do a good job of. I'll put that on me and make sure we know we're ready to go this week.
Q. Speaking about what you were just talking about, how much of this week do you spend on or own psyche and cleaning up your affairs and how much do you spend on Colorado?
COACH FICKELL: No, you still got to spend time on Colorado. Don't get me wrong when I say we don't understand what they're doing. We need to make sure we understand what we're doing. We need to make sure we focus on what we're doing, tackling on defense, ball security on offense. So it's still got to be about us and how we get better.
Does that mean we're not going to run their plays, do what they do in practice? No. But we want to make sure those guys understand we want to get better at what we do every bit as much as we're making sure we understand what they do.
Q. They're coming off a big win. They have guys from Ohio. What do you anticipate seeing coming in?
COACH FICKELL: They have some athletes with ability. They look like a little bit of revived leadership maybe. I don't know what they were like before. They definitely are an energetic group. Looks like a confident group. They'll fly around.
Q. Before the season Jim Hancock was talking about the seven starters on defense that you lost, not just how good they were as players, but as leaders. Where does that stand in terms of the defensive leadership? Do you feel like you're on the right path there?
COACH FICKELL: We need to develop some. We need to see guys step up. That's what we're hoping to see. That's going to emerge. You really will hopefully see it a little bit more as times get tougher, as you have some adversity and different things. We want to see who continues to step up.
I can't sit here and point a finger at it right now. There are guys that are working, there are guys that are going to be leaders, there are guys doing a good job for us.
Q. One guy who played well is John Simon. Can you talk about his development?
COACH FICKELL: John has done a great job so far. We've moved him around, asked him to do a lot of different things because of some of the situations we're in. The thing about John is he's a guy you know is going to be there working every single day. He's going to get better at everything he does. He's a great example to everybody on the team. That's what we want to make sure we continue.
Q. Is there a situation where getting an athlete playing time is not the most beneficial thing to their development overall? Are there situations where guys can learn more by practicing or watching?
COACH FICKELL: I don't know about in football. You got to get out there and do it to do it. I don't know exactly what you're referring to, but maybe you're talking about some of those NFL guys where they say a quarterback sits off two or three years to learn at 23 or 24 years old.
A lot of what we do, our experience, that's why we put our guys on special teams as freshmen. We want you out there playing. Make a couple tackles, have a lot more confidence putting you in, too.
So it's about playing. That's why we got to get guys a chance to play.
Q. At least in your experience there's never been a college player who's been stunted because they were thrown in before they were ready?
COACH FICKELL: Not that I know of.
Q. I know you're still a couple ways out from getting players back. I know you're focused on the guys you have. How are you keeping those guys engaged for what will be a couple weeks when you do get them back? How are you handling them in practice? How are they taking not playing?
COACH FICKELL: They've all been really good. They've all done a great job. They've been great leaders, just scout team-wise doing the different things, have been very positive. We'll need them to continue that.
Q. You say you're going to use practice this week to evaluate the quarterbacks. Just to be clear, is this still a two-quarterback situation or is Guiton and Graham in the mix?
COACH FICKELL: We'll probably give a lot more reps to all those guys. I don't know how it will work out exactly how many reps they'll get today. I'm going back over there to take a peek at the schedule how we got it divided up. We'll have a better feeling about how things are handled today.
Q. You made a couple references to how you're handling this: stomach churning, the email you got, the buck stops here. You've never had to deal with this before as an assistant coach or player. How is this week different than last week and week one for you personally?
COACH FICKELL: It's emotional. They know how you feel. It's not like I'm going to hide my emotions from them. But you have to move on. You got to take it a day at a time. Anything like you asked, if you try to look two or three or four weeks down the road, where are you going to be at at this time, to me that's when you kill yourself. It's that every single day trying to focus on that day, having some patience with it, finding ways to get better, see yourself getting better as a team in everything that you do.
That's where it's been most difficult, but that's where we are right now.
Q. Colorado looks like it wants to sling the ball a little bit. Your corners had some challenging times the other night. Where do you work to get the confidence back on that group?
COACH FICKELL: We work everywhere. We work at doing what we do. They're going to get challenged. They're going to get challenged each and every week. They'll sling it around, run the football, too. They do a very good job at what they do. But we're going to continue to get better and do what we do.
Corners anyway, they got to have a short memory. If they lack confidence out there, they won't be out there quite as long. That 17 hours is over with. We're going to figure out how we get better from that. We're going to move on and make sure we're getting better at what we do.
Q. Can you talk about the competition at safety between Orhian Johnson and Christian Bryant? What do you see there?
COACH FICKELL: I think we got to do a better job at rolling some in there. I think that's what we talked about. Guys got to be fresh. I think that's one thing we ended up seeing in the game Saturday night. Is it an emotional thing? All of a sudden you get scored on so quick, you're shellshocked, you look slow, a little bit heavy-legged. You wish you had some guys you could roll in.
Defensive line-wise we do a pretty good job of it. Linebacker-wise we don't do as good a job of it. To have those three guys, I think we do a good job. We have to do a better job rolling them.
Q. Andrew Sweat was favoring his knee, and Adam Homan?
COACH FICKELL: Adam had surgery on Monday. Andrew, just like most guys, he's dinged up, got some things. But I would imagine he'll be fighting through it and continuing to get better.
COACH FICKELL: I'm not sure on Corey. We'll see if he can do anything this week. We probably won't have a good feeling on him till Wednesday or Thursday.
Q. During the Toledo game we heard some scattered boos from the crowd. Coming off a loss at Miami. Are you concerned about what kind of reception, what it will be like in the stadium on Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: Really that's probably one thing I haven't given a whole lot of thought to. I mean, hey, they're passionate about what they do. I understand everybody's got a job to do. They pay their money to get in. They love Ohio State, Ohio State football. If they don't like something, they let you know.
That's not what we're going to focus on. Hopefully that doesn't affect us mentally in any way.
Q. I don't want to belabor the point on the timeouts, but I'm going to. Do you regret you ended up with three timeouts in your pocket at the end of that game?
COACH FICKELL: Well, if we were within striking distance, I would have liked to have them. Do I regret anything? Maybe the very last one that could have saved us an extra 20 seconds before they went for it on fourth down. Other than that, that was our plan when we talked about it.
Q. Did you feel 17-6 was striking distance?
COACH FICKELL: We felt like we needed those timeouts, if we were going to get the ball back, to be able to have a chance to score twice.
Q. Perhaps the most glaring was when there was an injury on the field and they took 40 seconds off the clock. Do you regret not using one at that point to keep a full 40 seconds on the clock?
COACH FICKELL: That was right there towards that very end. After they had already taken their timeout on third down, we said, They did us a favor, took the timeout. We have to score twice. We're going to need those two if we can get the ball back. The focus needed to be on, yes, stopping it.
It ultimately didn't end up hurting us. That last one, as I look back and evaluate it, that was the chance to get -- hindsight, that would probably be the spot.
THE MODERATOR: Luke, thank you.
COACH FICKELL: Sure.
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