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October 4, 2011

Luke Fickell

COACH FICKELL: I'm sure we can just go ahead and open it up for any questions if you want. Talk football.

Q. Can we start just by you giving us an injury update?
COACH FICKELL: Who would you like to know about?

Q. Nathan Williams obviously and Corey "Philly" Brown.
COACH FICKELL: So would I. (Laughter).
Don't know exactly. Philly see how he runs out there today. Hopefully he'll be all right. That's what we were expecting as a Nebraska return. But we don't know for sure on that. Nathan, I'm not sure I would probably say doubt; I would doubt it, from what I saw on Sunday.
But again, things can change in the next two days but he doesn't look good and Philly would hopefully be all right.

Q. And just, we have discussed this, also, but you are blending in a couple of players that you have not had. Is that a touchy situation for a coach to play your best players, but at the same time, be true to the people who have been around for the whole time and gone through five games for you already?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, I think it is, but you know, those guys have been a part of the team. Those guys have been a part of the program. It's not like they were gone and distant.
Those guys all have the utmost respect for those guys and how they have worked and how they have handled their situation. Each one will be handled in the way that we best need to be handled for the team. But definitely take into consideration that obviously that we are not throwing anybody away that had been in there, and you know, we are going to continue to move forward.
But it is a situation that, believe me, is addressed but our guys probably have as much respect for those guys and the way they have done everything and the way they have handled everything, so it makes it that much easier.

Q. Talking to some of the guys post-game on Saturday with the loss, the one thing that kind of gave them a little bit of solace was the fact that they were going to get guys back, DeVier Posey and Dan, of course and obviously you had to address the team yesterday can tell them they wouldn't be. What was the reaction to the team and how do you keep spirits up, when it was something that they were kind of pointing towards?
COACH FICKELL: That's what you've got to do. Probably we went ahead and went with our three points of wisdom from John Wooden that said: Don't whine, don't complain and don't make excuses. And I think that's what we have got to be able to do, and it starts from the top down with all of us as coaches.
So is it a kick? Is it something that's not easy. Yeah, we all feel that way. But you know, we have also got to look at the things we are getting. So you've got your Mike Adams and your Solomon Thomas, and you know, so those are the things you've still got to focus on.
How many times have we said, we are going to focus on what we have, not what we don't have and focus on moving forward. So that's what we have to do. We are not going to make excuses for guys. We are not going to allow them to be down and we are not going to allow them to do that; as coaches we are not going to do that as a team, and we believe everybody will follow suit.

Q. Regardless of what the NCAA rules, will DeVier Posey and Dan remain on the football team going forward?

Q. Have you as head coach given consideration to remove multiple-time NCAA violators from the team?
COACH FICKELL: Well, this is still something that's undergoing and I don't know. I don't have all of the information that they are going through probably just as of yet. Not that I have seen anything that we wouldn't want a guy around right now.

Q. Would you have that option if you wanted it as the head coach, if you had that ability?
COACH FICKELL: I'm sure we would talk about that as a team, as a staff. But you know, again, those guys were part of who we are right now; they are a part of what we do, and we need each and every one of them, in whatever role they have.

Q. Another injury update, Verlon Reed, what's his status and more fundamentally, when you watch the tape, especially of the offense and saw the difficulty, when you look at, is it a scheme issue, is it just the fact that you have got a freshman quarterback and he's limited when you analyze it, what can be done?
COACH FICKELL: Well, with Verlon, he has torn his ACL and pretty much everything in his knee, so he will be done for the year. So he will be out.
Offensively-wise, it's a lot of things. I mean, again, we have got to put ourselves in those situations that we can give ourselves a little bit more help, and I just mean in a situation where -- whether you can run the football a little bit more or have the ability to take advantage of some of the things guys are doing against us, it's a whole. You can't just point a finger and stay well, well, it's the quarterback, well, it's the offensive line, or it's the wide-outs not getting open or it's the call.
It's a combination of everything but it still comes down to that we have to figure what it is that we do well and continue to do those things and find out how we can get better at those things that we can do well.
So it's a combination of all of, whether it's a scheme or whether it's a guy finding the open receiver or whether it's a guy picking up a blitz.

Q. Were you satisfied with the level of adjustments you were trying to make in the Michigan State game?
COACH FICKELL: Again, when you don't win, you don't like your adjustments. When you do win, sometimes your adjustments look a little bit better. But we need to do a better job. We need to do a better job of adjusting defensively, we need to a bet eastbound job defensively making some of those big plays that maybe turn into a touchdown.
We got a couple picks that could have been changers in the game; and we got a chance to block a punt that goes through the guy's hands early in the game that really with a young group, a lot is an emotional factor.
A lot is on how the ball is rolling, just with the type of group you have, and you know, so I think that's a big factor. But again, there's a lot of areas, you know, and we have to figure out what it is and how we can get the ball to the guys we need to get the ball to.

Q. Braxton is listed as the starter on the depth chart this week. Will you have a quicker hook this week? You looked for a spark last week, but you waited further into the game. Will you have the quicker hook if it doesn't go well offensively?
COACH FICKELL: No. We don't want a guy going in thinking that by any means. We told those guys we are probably going to need them both throughout the course of the year. How are we going to do that? I don't know.
Braxton is the guy that right now is our starting quarterback, and you know, I would think hook-wise, we don't want him to ever think that. And I think it just came into a situation for what they were doing and what we needed to do at the time. We made the change, but you know, I wouldn't say that there's hook we're looking for if it doesn't happen in the first couple series or whatever, we are going to change, no.
We just have to know and we have to get better, and we have to be able to put them in some situations. And ultimately, we have got to make a couple of plays, because you know, I mean, whether you're 18 years old or you're 22 years old, if you get some emotion and you get some adrenaline and you get a few good things that happen to you, sometimes that ball begins to roll a little bit more.
But I don't have want them to think that, hey, you've got a short leash, or we don't have enough confidence or faith in you.

Q. How do you get your team prepared and ready for what will be a difficult setting?
COACH FICKELL: That being said, the preparation starts, really, Sunday night. That's the thing, we want to make sure our guys understand that Sunday night, we take off out of here on Friday, and they know what to expect and what we see on film. They are going to get a little bit more, and it's our job to make sure they understand when they walk in there what to expect. But emotionally our guys are competitors and Saturday, I promise they will be fired up to play. The key is, do they understand what they are doing and what it's going to take on Sunday.

Q. A little bit unchartered waters, it will be the first time ever that State has gone out there. Have you been trying to find out what the atmosphere is going to be like? What have you been able to find out?
COACH FICKELL: No, we have looked into that, we looked into that a lot during the summer and obviously the people that have played out there, and that's what our guys are excited about. Maybe it will be like playing at Wisconsin at night. We have been there, we have seen that. But again, you don't exactly know until you're there, so you try to over-prepare them in what they might get mentally.
That's the most important thing. But again, until you're there and until you've seen it and until you do it, crowd noise or do something specific, like throw things at them, that might could happen -- I have not heard about it; but again the most important thing is that we prepare them mentally and they know what to expect in a hostile environment; and the emotions, try to put that heat on them during practice, the emotions that they are going to have because of the hype of the game.

Q. 22-year-old kids, without putting them through the ringer -- is it easier said than done? How concerned are you that they are not where they need to be?
COACH FICKELL: We still believe they will live up to what is expected. So if you whine or complain a little bit, just in your own way, then they will -- but we can't make excuses for them; just because they are young, we cannot make excuses.
We argued about that on Sunday night; well, you're probably not. Don't make any excuses for them. We are not going to make any excuses for them. We will not allow them to do that.
What are they thinking? That's ultimately what they have to be able to control, but I promise what we put in front of them, won't be the complaining; it won't be the whining.

Q. Inaudible.
COACH FICKELL: We have got competitors. When we walked out of the room maybe yesterday, they were down, but hey, next morning, next play, next time. That's the motto we have got to have. And you know, it will be interesting. We go out there today, there won't be a head down and there won't be anybody whining or moping. And it all starts from the top down, and we won't accept it and won't allow it.

Q. Needless to say, this has been an unsettling time for Buckeye football and not what you've signed up for. Just curious how it accumulates as the caretaker of the program having to go through this.
COACH FICKELL: I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that. But there's situations and things you're going to have to go through in life. Do we like them? No. Do we love them? No. They are what they are. That's what's going to make us better. We have not been in this situation, and these young men have not been in this situation.

Q. In the 90s, their fans had a reputation; the relationship, have you heard anything about the nastiness with or that things have changed?
COACH FICKELL: I can't say I've been out there. I've been out there for wrestling. That's about it. But I've talked with Pat Hill -- or I didn't talk to him but one of our guys did, and said they are good, they are loud, they get after it.

Q. On Saturday where the defense struggles, is their challenge to make sure the guys on defense, there's no finger-pointing, have you sensed, or do you feel like everybody is still together and they are working through their problems and we'll be all right?
COACH FICKELL: You know what, that's what we see and that's what we preach, and that's what we talk about. We had a motto two years ago on defense: No names, no blame, no worries. And it's kind of the same thing, we have kind of just said, you play, you win as a team and you lose.
There's all areas where we could have found things that we could have done better. Make sure guys don't have excuses in their head, and we are not going to tolerate it, and that's it. There's going to be a point in time when the offense is going to be in a situation that they are going to have to pick up for us or for the defensive side of the ball. That's what you do. You stay together, you play together, you win together, you lose together.
You can't let those things, if you think about them -- and we think about them as coaches, okay. And we try to see -- nothing goes unnoticed. Those are things that we watch for and look for, and if we do see them, we will be on them right away. But it starts with us. It starts with us as coaches. We would never allow ourselves to think those kinds of things. And we believe if they live up to what they we believe, we'll be successful.

Q. As defensive coordinator and as a defensive guy, how difficult is it to defend a team that you have no idea what they will do on first down? Does that concern you as you look at your offense, their ability to throw on first down, the confidence on the offense; is that a concern or something that is overrated?
COACH FICKELL: It is, but you've still got to do what you've got to do. We all know we have to have balance. That's where it starts, and you have to evaluate yourself to where you can get more balanced than what you feel. But then again, those teams are going to do certain things on first downs. We all know second and three and four is a lot easier. Second and two, they have a lot of options. We didn't do a great job on first downs, and that put us in a situation where they can take a shot.
Yeah, we talk about those things. We know those things. We evaluate our stats and where we are and what we have done on first and tens, and we are always trying to be balanced. We have to do a better job. Also you have to take what people give, and you some of those runs are probably checked.

Q. You guys had a lot of success last year with Denard, keeping him down, Taylor Martinez provides similar problems, and he's a better runner than he is a passer. How much do you lean on the success you had last year and apply it to this week with Taylor?
COACH FICKELL: Presents a lot of challenges. Again it starts up front. That's what they do a very good job of. Obviously he can run, and I'm not sure there's probably anybody on their team that's faster than them, but you know what you've got to do. It starts with them up front, when they can get on you they can get those guys pulled around the edges and they can get you strung out on options.
Martinez is going to be a very, very tough guy to catch, obviously, if you let him get going. So again, it's different, it's much different than what a Michigan was last year with how they ran Denard. Still, a lot of times with the two backs we are guarding with maybe a little bit more of the border penetration, stuff like that, maybe in the past they have done. But definitely, the thing is you can't just focus on him. And yes, he runs, and yes, he does all of those things, but it's those guys up front.

Q. Did you notice any frustration with the actual players offensively with maybe what was not going well for them, and have you guys developed the kind of leadership from the guys who are able to play on Saturdays that you wanted to see on this team at this point in the year?
COACH FICKELL: Anybody who is a competitor, you know, gets frustrated, and how you show those emotions, everybody is different.
We have got to make sure guys understand how they need to control their emotions, especially on a game day. But it's frustrating; if you're a competitor and things are not going well for you, you're frustrated. And if you're not frustrated, then you would be a little bit more worried.
But you can't just look and have an idea, just because of their facial expressions or how they act. Just because a guy is not spiking his helmet doesn't mean he's not frustrated; or if he is spiking his helmet, it doesn't mean, oh, he's a competitor and he's frustrated.
And leadership is continuing to be developed. I think there's definitely guys that are stepping up and we saw that this past week, and we'll see that in the locker room with everything right now. You can't wait until Saturday to find that leadership.

Q. So you're not going to whine about it or complain about it --

Q. A lot of the problems this year are caused by suspensions and the fact that guys are not here. How have all of those suspensions, the news that you got yesterday, the news that you got the first couple of weeks of the season made you a better football coach, made your staff better, more creative, whatever it may be, given the fact that you're playing with one arm tied behind your back?
COACH FICKELL: We don't look at it like that. But you know what it does, it makes us have to continue to coach. It makes us have to develop guys. That's what teaching and coaching is all about. Whether we have 53 or 54 days left until Michigan, we can continue to coach and make them better football players -- you're going to lose guys because of injuries.
I think that's when you just go back to your roots and basics and say, hey, what's going to make us good. It's not going to be us designing every perfect little scheme, and, oh, we can do this and we can do this. Maybe we are not in that situation; if we had a fifth-year quarterback or a fourth-year quarterback or a fourth-year middle linebacker that could check us out of a lot of things. Really what is it does is it makes us better coaches, because you go back to what it really means, coaching fundamentals and just being tough.

Q. Has it accelerated your path as a better head coach because you've had to deal with all of these different things?
COACH FICKELL: Who knows? In the long run you'll see.
There's a lot of things that maybe you didn't know what to expect. And there's probably a lot of coaches that coach a long time that have never been in this situation. But then again there are a lot of coaches coaching for a long time that have never been in a National Championship game. Not that you know how they would respond, but some guys getting in the National Championship game, first year, second year as a coach; I guess you've got to go through them to be able to handle them. And the next time you go through them hopefully you are better at whatever you are doing. That's when you probably evaluate yourself to see that you got better at what you do.

Q. Do you get the sense there's still a chance you could have Boom Herron for Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: I don't go into hypothetical situations. So I don't know anything about that.

Q. And then number two, when you look at Nebraska and their defense, they get publicity about being the black shirts, etc. But they have been ripped pretty good a few times even this year and stuff. What do you see about their defense that concerns you, what stands out about it right now?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, they are physical. They are definitely guys -- it starts up front for them. They are going to get on you. Same type of thing: They are going to be on and you pressed up in a lot of coverage stuff and they are going to be physical up front. That's probably what they pride themselves on the most.
He's not exactly -- Coach Pelini, he's not going to be a huge, huge scheme type of guy. When he comes down to it, it's going to be about being physical, being tough, playing with great technique and making people beat you with something different or something new. They are going to be well coached up. I think that's probably what you see from them.
Yes, maybe they have given up some things that happened, but just shows you they are going to get back to the base fundamentals what have they do best. They are probably going to be more physical, tougher, and that says a lot about their fundamentals.

Q. We obviously know Nebraska is new to the Big Ten, is it tough to face a team that you are not used to seeing?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, you do it every year, whether it's preseason game, whether it's a Bowl game. We do a lot of preparation outside of the season just trying to understand who they are and what they are about. But a program like that that you've watched and studied over the years, just because of who they are, you know a bit more about them.
So I don't think that's what makes -- that doesn't make it any more difficult than what they do each and every year, because what they did last year, to this year, offensively is going to be a bit different.

Q. Obviously Nebraska wants to show to the world that they can compete in the Big Ten, and probably no Big Ten team wants to be the first to lose to Nebraska. Can you use that as a tool, an emotional tool, against a team like that?
COACH FICKELL: I don't think you ever use not wanting to lose. If you go in there not wanting to lose or fearing to lose, then I don't know that that would ever be a motivational tool. We are going to focus on what we do, how we can get better. And we are going to focus on us, not trying to find something -- be worried about losing. That can't be a thought process.

Q. Real quick about Solomon Thomas, not listed, but do you figure that he will work his way into the defensive line rotation Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: I would hope so. Again, we have to see how he competes and works out there right now. I'm going to start him today. You would hope so and you hope you would see him in some situations but again, he's been dinged up as well, broke his leg in the spring game and just getting back from that. That's one of those things that Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are all about.

Q. Are Mike Adams and Andrew the only left tackles right now, or could either or both of them see time at other spots on the offense?
COACH FICKELL: No, those guys -- that's what I've always liked what Coach Bollman has been able to do. He teaches it as a system. So those guys are able to move around, if they have to go from left tackle to right tackle, left guard to right guard, they understand that system. Those guys have the ability to be able to move around.
Obviously you get more comfortable playing the position that you're used to playing, but they have that ability to make sure that we can keep the best five on the field.

Q. Andrew Norwell, listed behind Mike, do you think Andrew is one of your best five?
COACH FICKELL: Did they get the updated ones? Need to look at it.

Q. I'll double-check that.

Q. Specifically the game plan against Michigan State, why did you offensively not run more screens or draws or misdirect runs or short passes or something that may have slowed down Michigan State's pressure?
COACH FICKELL: Well, we could get into X's and O's; how deep do you really want to go into it? Again, this is not the time or the place. But you probably have to understand that sometimes when you have a running quarterback, it's a little bit more difficult to throw screens. Yes, they are bringing heat, but understand that somebody is control rushing because of the scrambling quarterback.
Now, not saying that you can't still run a screen; not saying that that's impossible to run a screen. But just defensively, at times, if it is a running quarterback, and I assure you, there's somebody -- there might be three guys coming up the middle, but there's probably two on the edges that are just hanging for him. Yes, there's nine sacks; you would say, obviously, throw some screens, throw them down a little bit. And we did. We called a couple. And you guys might think that they were just sacks, but that wasn't just the line letting those guys through at times. The back was eaten up by the guy rushing because that's what he was looking for.
Yes, we all have ideas and opinions off it. Those things we do try to do. We just have to do a better job of it.

Q. The game plan then that you did use Saturday, if it's executed better generally, can that type of offensive game plan work with the personnel you have now, or do you think, no, there are definitely things that have to change?
COACH FICKELL: I think we have to be able to make adjustments. There are open receivers and guys that we have to find.
Like I said, don't take any credit away from what those guys did against us, as well. But if you pop it on and you watch, you can definitely see that there are some things that, man, might not be real sound right now, but pressure can do that to you. A lot of times that ball gets rolling and you don't make the plays you need to make. That's ultimately what it comes down to.
Guys are going to bring that kind of pressure. There's still some things you have to be able to attack, and you have to be able to make a couple of plays. And I promise you, if you make a couple of plays, they stop bringing the pressure. And we just didn't do it. Is it completely a game plan thing? Is it a complete thing? Is it a not executing thing? It's all together. We all take the blame.

Q. It's the nature of his job, offensive coordinator always gets his run of criticism, and Jim Bollman is getting criticized; what would you want to say to people who question him?
COACH FICKELL: We all don't like where we are. We all know there's ways we need to get better. And criticism, I mean, criticism I handle a lot better than do I praise. It makes me mad and it makes me work harder and makes me do things a little bit more.
But you can't let it affect you. You have to continue to get better. He understands what we need to do. We just have to do a better job of figuring out what our guys can do and what our guys can handle, and we will. There's going to be growing pains and there's going to be things, and nothing that a good offensive performance or a good win won't make up for. But if we sit and worry about all of the people that criticized us, or we stay up late worrying about that, instead of worrying about what we need to do -- we can't let it affect us.

Q. Because your guys are not happy with where you are, do you worry about them starting to question what they are being asked to do, or do you feel they are totally bought in?
COACH FICKELL: They are in. I think that goes with all of the work. If you don't understand the program and how much you work in the off-season and do the things that you do, you wouldn't be here. We don't believe that of them. There's no leadership that would push them that way. There's no fragmentation in the group.
But we always say that when adversity hits, just like we talked about in the summer, when things happen, when we lose a game, when other adversities happen, the circle becomes tighter and tighter, and you have to pull closer and closer. And if there are people that are on the edge, they become more noticeable. So you don't see them, if there are, then obviously they will be a lot more noticeable when the adversity hits.

Q. You're a guy that preaches getting better. In what ways do you see this team has improved?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, our confidence level, understanding what we do. Fundamentally we are getting better, tackling better defensively. Can't account for some of the situations, injuries and those kinds of things.
There's a lot of young guys that we can see from day to day that might not show up always on Saturday, and a guy that doesn't have a big catch or makes a down. There are little things that might not come up in the stats. But we are pointing out, hey, still have confidence in what you're doing, you're getting better. Don't think those things aren't important.

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