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October 11, 2011

Luke Fickell

COACH FICKELL: Obviously all of us are disappointed in how we finished out last week's game, but we move on, and that's what we've got to do. I think we talked to those guys about it afterwards, everything hurts a little bit more when your heart hurts, and that's a part of the football game. We've been on the other side of a lot of those. We were on the other side of this one. We'll all grow from it, we'll all be better in the long run because of it, as long as we handle it in the right way. Nothing will change for us, the energy, the passion, all those kinds of things won't change the way we coach, won't change the way we get after our guys, our expectations of them won't change, and I think they've embraced that.
We're excited about getting back on the field, especially today. That's the only way to get that taste out of your mouth, and we're going to continue to find a way to get better.

Q. What's the status of Braxton Miller, and then after that your thoughts on the way he played before the injury occurred, seemed like it was the most comfortable he'd been since he's been here.
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, he looks -- I think he's going to be okay. The most important thing is how you can practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I think they keep saying, he's going to be fine, I think he's going to be fine, but we've got work to do, so we'll be out there in about an hour and a half today, and we'll see how he feels being able to run around on it and things.
But he did, he was more comfortable out there. We made some plays so that obviously gave him an opportunity to be more comfortable, and he's continuing to grow. I think that's the thing you can continue to be positive about, and you can see whether it's the offense in general, as a whole. There was a few, we made some plays, and the growth is there, and there's a still lot potential to continue to grow.

Q. Have you guys rethought your situation at backup quarterback, and will you be looking at Kenny Guiton maybe a little bit more seriously this week than last week?
COACH FICKELL: Kenny will get some more reps and that's a part of it. Kenny has been getting reps, and some of them have been at the quarterback position, some of them have been on special teams. Kenny has stayed involved a lot and showed the team and everybody how important it is to him, and he'll get probably more and more opportunities in the weeks to come.

Q. About Joe Bauserman, obviously he struggled. When you watch the tape, did he struggle as badly as it seemed he struggled on Saturday?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, yeah. Again, it's a tough situation to come into. You know, they changed their game a lot with what was going on, so coverage was a lot different when he was in there as probably when Braxton was in there. That has something to do with it, but ultimately it comes down to performing and making plays, and that's ultimately what we've got to evaluate people on. Could he have done something? Yeah, obviously we all could have done better. We could have done better as coaches, he could have better as a quarterback, we could have blocked better, we could have ran better in situations. But.
I mean, his attitude is still right. He still wants to do his best for this football team, and he's going to continue to fight to get better.

Q. When you look back at the offensive game plan, after Braxton got hurt do you feel when you look at film that what you guys called gave your team the best chance to win in that situation?
COACH FICKELL: Well, we evaluate everything and we're critical of ourselves in everything we do. You know, you can sit there and say, well, hey, should you have kicked a field goal, a 50-yard field goal, and you in turn say why didn't you guys just go ball control and play the field position battle. If it doesn't work, yes, you always look back and say what would we have changed differently. But ultimately it comes down to making one more play, whether that's throwing the football, whether that's -- there's the interception; if it was a catch and it was a touchdown, hey, it would have been the greatest call in the world.
Hindsight is definitely 20/20, and you have some things you'd change definitely, but ultimately we've got to continue to take shots, and it doesn't matter really who's in there. You know, there's always things, whether it's offensively, defensively, special teams wise that you would look back and say, man, maybe if I would have done this a little bit different, but nothing that I publicly want to say, yeah, we should have done this.

Q. On the other side of the ball, as you look at what happened down the stretch defensively, what were the breakdowns?
COACH FICKELL: You know, I've not been a part of something like that, a little bit of an unbelievable snowball effect, but it comes down to tackling. You know, and I think that's ultimately the biggest thing is in the first half we were as lights out as we've been and sound, and in the second half you're going to -- a play here, the first touchdown, there was kind of a little bit of a miscue and a new formation, something they hit us on, and we just never regrouped again.
I guess we got a little bit frantic and our tackling went down the drain, and I think that's ultimately when you look back at it, defensively usually when things aren't happening, when things are bad, it starts with your tackling, and that's where we're going to point a finger. Whether it's conditioning, whether we got tired, whether we got mentally drained, all those things factor into it, but ultimately we didn't get the job done. It starts with tackling, and we've got to do a better job of putting them in position that we can succeed.

Q. You're halfway through the season, and a lot of things have been thrown at you that you probably didn't anticipate when you took the job. What's been the biggest challenge off the field, on the field, wherever it may be? What's been the biggest challenge for you to date?
COACH FICKELL: It's balance. It's maintaining some balance in your life, maintaining balance in your program, balance in how much you spend with the defense, how much you spend with the psyche of the entire group, and then probably the most difficult thing is probably this, is going to talk to the quarterback club, going to talk to the media when things are tough, because I'm not about a whole lot of talk, and that's -- but that's part of the game. That's what you have to do. You've obviously got to do this.
But as an assistant coach, you just put your head back in the book, you get with your 10, 12, 20, whatever guys you've got, and you fight through it with them and you grind it out and you find a way to get better, and it's not about a whole lot of talk, it's about work. It's about passion. It's about energy. And then when you're the head coach, I guess you've got to stand up and make sure everybody else understands and talk about it and revisit it and rehash it and have it come back up in your stomach three or four or five, six, seven times during the week.
That's the most difficult thing to me. It's still football. When you're around the guys, you enjoy doing what you do. When you can be with them, that's why you do this. You just don't have as much time to do that. That's the most difficult thing.

Q. Because you're at that theoretical halfway point, do you feel any more pressure in terms of doing everything you can do? You've been given every opportunity to see what happens after this season is over in terms of your future here?
COACH FICKELL: We don't look at it like that. We told our guys we can't look at it like that. We can't look any further ahead than today. That's just where we are. You drive yourself batty trying to do it. So no, I don't give that any thought. I think about each and every day how we can get better, worry about those guys and what's their mental state and how do we continue to motivate them and still have the energy, because it's the leadership role, and if you don't have energy, then how can the people around you have energy? If you don't have confidence, how can the people around you have confidence? That's where you spend all your time focusing, not what can happen in the future.

Q. With Dan Herron expected to be back this week, how does he factor into your game plan with Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde?
COACH FICKELL: Dan will get some touches. You might see Dan initially on special teams, whether he's on the kickoff team, whether he's on the kickoff return team. But Dan is a big part of who we are. That's probably one of the -- not just what we've missed from him on the field, but in the locker room, off the field, in the huddle, just that -- his personality, his passion, his confidence level. That's something that we are going to try and ride, and in order to do that he's going to have to have a hand in it and have a part of it, and he will.

Q. Back to your defense, do you worry about the defensive psyche? The fourth quarter at Miami when they couldn't get off the field and that one drive and then what happened Saturday night? Do you kind of worry about the psyche a little bit and are maybe some shake-ups coming on that side of the ball a little bit, and will Ryan Shazier see a little bit more action?
COACH FICKELL: No, it starts with us. As long as we don't let it affect us psyche wise, things happen, and that's part of the football game. Obviously you've got to get better at it, and I think as we pinpoint it, it starts with tackling, it starts -- to me sometimes our biggest problems come when we get a little bit tired, and is that a conditioning factor, is that a rolling-more-guys-through factor? It all goes together, but we can't lose confidence in what we're doing. I mean, we've done it here. We've been successful, and you've just got to continue to go at it. That's part of it.
Can we do a better job of getting some more guys in there? We've got to. But a lot of those guys you're going to try and get in are true, true freshmen, and sometimes that's difficult in a situation where you're on the road or a game is tight. But we've got to -- we have to do a little bit better job of that.

Q. Mike Adams got his job back right away. Why are things different with Boom? Is it because you've gotten good production out of the other tailbacks?
COACH FICKELL: Well, Mike probably wouldn't have been the starting tackle last week if we didn't have a mix-up with Marcus. We had to shift around and we had a guy that was out, so like we had said, six weeks, seven, eight weeks ago, we're going to continue to get better, and when those guys are available they'll compete to get themselves back in there. Obviously the situation arose just because of the situation last week, and that's probably where Boom is. Those guys have done a good job, they're going to continue to battle. It's not like they can't be out there for us. We know we're going to need them all, and our team is good with them, Boom is good with that, and that's what's most important.

Q. What's the priority order this week? Do you try to take care of some of the internal stuff? You've got questions about game plan, personnel, psyche and all this other stuff, but you're also playing a top 20 team that's undefeated. What do you try to take care of first on the pecking order?
COACH FICKELL: Well, it starts with us. It's not unlike any other game. If you were coming off a big win, you'd be saying we've got to worry about the psyche of the team, are they over confident in what they're doing. That's an every-week thing. We focus on our guys and make sure they understand what they're going to walk themselves into, know what to expect, what kind of team they're going to see, and sometimes it's a lot easier to get their attention when you've got a 6-0 ball club that is rolling in pretty much every phase of their game.
It's always going to start with us and making sure we're on the right page, and our guys understand what we need to do to get better and to be successful, and we'll spend the right amount of time studying what they do, as well.

Q. It seems as if Illinois is really on a roll both sides of the ball and they've had a couple of close calls but for the most part they've played pretty well. Could you talk about that?
COACH FICKELL: Well, offensively it starts with the quarterback, and I think that's probably one of the biggest changes you've seen from them from last year to this year. They've still got a lot of the same guys up front back that gives them obviously a chance, but I think it starts with the quarterback and his confidence level, his ability to run and throw. He's playing as well as anybody I've seen on tape this year.
I think that's where it starts offensively. Defensively they're sound. They're going to get after you. They're going to mix it up a little bit, but that's what Coach Zook has probably been most known for is his defense and where he's been on that side of the football, so you know they're going to be fundamentally sound. And a team that's rolling, you can see the emotions, you can see the confidence level in them. That's something that's very obvious when you watch the film.

Q. With Marcus Hall presumably back --

Q. -- how will the offensive line look?
COACH FICKELL: You have to look at the depth chart. I would imagine it's probably pretty similar to what it was last week, and that's where we'll start. But like I said, just our ability to be able to roll, to keep guys fresh for the fourth quarter and those kinds of things are something that we've got to look at doing a better job of, whether it's offensive line wise, defensive line wise, linebacker wise.

Q. Can you give your assessment of Mike Adams?
COACH FICKELL: Mike played pretty well. He did a good job. Ultimately you don't just want to pinpoint one thing. None of us played well enough to win, and I think that's ultimately what it comes down to. But Mike is a boost for us, and he's a confident guy. He's going to give us confidence in that huddle, and we've just got to know -- everybody has got to get a little bit better.

Q. You talked about Brax. Other than him anyone else banged up that might be in question and anything new on Nathan Williams?
COACH FICKELL: No, I mean, Braxton -- like you said, we've addressed it. We'll see how he runs around today. Nathan Williams will probably not be with us the rest of the year. He'll probably be done for the year.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FICKELL: I don't know. I think he'll probably have another surgery.

Q. (No microphone.)
COACH FICKELL: Storm came back. Obviously he's sore, and all those little bumps and bruises hurt a lot more when your heart hurts, but everything came back negative, and he'll have to fight through it and get better. Six weeks into the season that's what it's about.

Q. Even when Ohio State has been rolling, Illinois has been a tough game for Ohio State to get past. Is there one thing that stands out in these past games for you as to why Illinois has been -- I don't want to say a thorn in your side, but they've caused some problems.
COACH FICKELL: Shoot, it goes all the way back to when I was in school. I don't know. Is it that they've -- they've got a handful of guys from the state of Ohio, obviously Coach Zook is from the state of Ohio. Ohio State is a big game for pretty much anybody, and that's a part of it. You know, but you can't pinpoint one specific thing that, hey, they only play well against us. For them they've played well in the last few years a lot.
But it's an emotional thing. I'm sure when people are down, obviously guys go after them even more. So I wouldn't expect anything different. I would expect their best with the confident group that they are.

Q. You talked earlier about the possibility of Kenny getting a few more reps. What do you like about him? What do you hope that he might be able to bring if it does come to pass that he has an opportunity to get in the game?
COACH FICKELL: Well, I think Kenny starts with his passion to play right now. If you come over to practice, you would see whether he's on special teams, whether he's jumping in on scout team, he wants to play football, and we've got a bunch of guys out there that are that way. You know, when you've got those guys out there you say I've got to find a way to get him on the field or give him a chance to get some reps. I think that's probably the one thing that jumps out that you've seen from Kenny.
Obviously we always talk to the guys and say you never know when your opportunity is going to arise. You'd just better be ready for it when it does. I've seen his attitude take that seriously, and I'm sure he's waiting for that opportunity to arise.

Q. Considering the fact you talked about getting production from the quarterback position, do you guys still feel like Joe gives you the best chance to move the ball and be productive if he has to play if Braxton comes out, and what's his mental state coming off of that game?
COACH FICKELL: Well, right now we're focused on obviously Braxton is our quarterback, and if Joe goes in there, then obviously we have to do some different things probably. The thing is people are going to play you different, so you've got to figure out what it is that he can do well. The thing with Joe is he is an older guy, so he's been through a lot. He's probably -- obviously baseball, was a professional baseball player, and that might not have exactly went the way he wanted it to, so he's handled those kind of things, so I think he's been through it. He understands it's a lot about attitude, and when you have your opportunities you've got to make the best of them. You never know, an opportunity is probably going to arise at some point in time for him again, and I'll have confidence that he'll make the plays that he needs to.

Q. Given the number of hits Braxton has taken, this is not surprising necessarily that he's gotten injured. How much caution do you want him to have, especially with this ankle issue he's got this week? Are you going to try to reduce the number of times he's got to run?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, yeah, that's always something that you worry about. You can put their film on and watch them, Illinois' quarterback, and say, oh, boy, you don't want him running the football, how many times are you going to let him get hit. But that's a part of the football game. Obviously we've all got to be smart with what we're doing, so if he's able to go, we've got to make sure we go with what we do best, and sometimes that entails him running the football. Now, we've got to be smart with that, and as we get into the week we'll figure out what that situation is best.

Q. A.J. Jenkins, what comes to mind when you think of him, the wide receiver for Illinois? What does he bring to the table?
COACH FICKELL: He's a big playmaker, and that's the thing, if you see a big, long pass it's probably with A.J. Jenkins on it. He's their go-to guy on big plays. But it starts with their running game. It starts with the quarterback, and he gives him that opportunity that people have to stack the box and do some things because the quarterback can hurt you in so many different ways, and the guy that obviously has taken advantage of that the most is A.J.
Obviously he can play, and that's what you look for in a playmaker. But it's the whole group that obviously stands out.

Q. Can you offer any more detail about Nathan Williams? This is a guy it sounded like when it first happened that sounded like he'd be back.
COACH FICKELL: No, I don't know much more. It looks like he's done for the season.

Q. We're talking about a guy who people thought had a chance to be one of the better defenders in Big Ten this year. How much do you think his loss has affected this defense? I mean, this is pretty big news it seems like to lose a guy like that for the whole year.
COACH FICKELL: He hasn't played since the first game, so it's a part of the game. Sometimes when you figure out what you're going with, it might make you better, too. It's a part of what we do. We're not going to sit and dwell upon it. We want to get better, and most importantly, if he can help us, then he'll be out there; if he can't help us, then he won't be out there.

Q. You look specifically at the defense against Nebraska up front, you did talk about missed tackles but it seemed like later in the game a lot of the defensive linemen were getting blocked, allowing the offensive linemen to get to the second level and block some linebackers. Are you getting enough production from the front four in terms of not only making plays but keeping guys off the linebacker, or what more do you want to see from the guys you do have up front?
COACH FICKELL: It's a whole group. I've been up there. I know how it goes. But it's everything, and it's hard to explain. I've not really been a part of one like that, that the snowball happens, and things go from one complete direction to the other. It's really about settling down and somebody making a play. You know, one play -- when those things happen, then all of a sudden, whether it's a linebacker or defensive lineman, DB, somebody starts to think they've got to step up and do something outside of what they normally do, and that's usually how big plays happen.
It goes from all of us. It comes from the sideline, from us coaches making sure that they calm them down and put them in the best situation they can be in and it ultimately comes down to somebody making a play. We all look back at it and try to figure out how we can get better.

Q. During the summer and also during camp I remember you mentioned how tight this team was, but you also made a comment that it's easy right now to be together, it's when adversity happens, how do we handle it. I'm just wondering with what you guys have gone through on Saturday, how do you feel about the way this team is right now?
COACH FICKELL: You know what, it's amazing. I feel good about who they are. Obviously we've got to get back out there and go to work, but the way they stay together, like you said, they've been through a lot. But it's going to come down to this leadership, and it doesn't just have to be seniors. This is what we see. These are the times when you really find out how much faith and belief you have in each other and how much faith and belief and how much sacrifice you can withstand for each other.
You know, it gets more difficult each and every week. That's all we ever talk about. And I believe they're all with us. They really are. Sometimes it's shown in different ways, guys act differently, but I promise you, you go over there in about an hour and go onto that practice field and you'll see what I mean, see what kind of passion they have, see what kind of work ethic they have. I think they in their minds knew that they were in for a battle throughout this entire season, and getting better is what we said we had to do from the get-go.
I think, like I said, that's the only thing that allows me to sleep a little bit at night, to know that those guys are workers. They're fighting for each other. They believe in each other, and I don't think there's anything that can drive them apart.

Q. You've got one defender in the top 50 of the Big Ten in tackles. I'm just wondering, are you surprised by that? Are you alarmed by that? Or --
COACH FICKELL: Is this the first time you've noticed that? We used to always complain --

Q. It's a statement on how you guys have had to do it collectively, as well. It's just a stat, and if you have a reaction to it.
COACH FICKELL: No, there's times in the past when we used to get after Jerry and say, I don't know how we count tackles and how we do some of those things, how a guy -- six guys from wherever can be in the top ten in the tackles and yet we've got Brian Rowland, he's 14th and he's our leading, and back in the day when Marcus Merrick and some of those guys were getting 24 tackles a game, I don't know how they counted them.
With that being said, it is a collective group. I mean, you can look at our production chart and see the disparity, where in the past you've probably had three guys at the top of that production chart that were far and away above everybody else.
It's a little bit of who we are, and it's probably a little bit that we've got a collective group.

Q. You talked about on-field leadership and how maybe that can prevent something from snowballing. With that being said, might the move to permanent captains might be sooner than you thought, sooner rather than later? And are you happy with the leadership you're getting from your guys?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, no, and permanent captains, no, we made a decision how we're going to go with it. You might see more repeat guys, but we made a decision, and we're going to continue to go with it. Even if the same guys were going to be captain each and every week, we're still going to vote at the end of the year. We need a collective group just like we just said. You see a collective group as the stats break down defensively. We need a collective group with this whole team.

Q. If you wanted to change the logistics of offensive play calling, either the who or the how, do you have the authority to do that?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, why not?

Q. I'm just clearing up a rumor.
COACH FICKELL: Who else would I have to check with, my wife? (Laughter.)
We do everything together, though.

Q. I'll take the ball then and just ask this: Along that line, are you listening when they're on offense to the play calls, and have you interjected at any point in season, hey, I'd really rather see this, why don't we try that? Have you been involved in that process?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, I listen and I'm there with them, and I throw my two cents in at times, and then there's times I just sit and -- when they get done doing what they do, I say, no, let's go ahead and punt or let's kick the field goal. I've probably made a couple suggestions during a game, some good, probably some bad. But that's a part of it. As we grow and continue the process, but I am always there, and that's what makes it hard sometimes defensively is they're trying to ask me a question defensively and I'm on the other side, and just more there for support and throw some ideas out when they're needed.

Q. I wanted to ask you about Jaamal Berry. Where is he at physically and mentally right now and how does he fit into the game plan and the running attack and on special teams?
COACH FICKELL: Jaamal -- obviously special teams has been where he's been most focused, his ability to return some kicks. You'll probably see him a little bit more on some kick coverage things. Jaamal has a lot of ability, and there's a few tailbacks right now that probably get more opportunities than he does based on how we play, and that's just a part of the football game. I'm sure it's frustrating to him at times, but he also knows it's about the team. He's no different than like we said about Kenny Guiton at times. When your opportunity arises, you'd better be ready for it, so whether that's running the football, whether it's receiving the football, whether that's returning a kick, but his attitude has been right, and he's with us, and that's the most important thing.

Q. An Ohio State coach who I think is in this room once said that Ohio State fans are with you win or die. Are you aware of what the reaction was to the loss to Nebraska? Have you had any play with anybody, any texts, any words of support or lack of support or anything?
COACH FICKELL: No. It's -- you know who's going to support you, and that's the most important thing. You know, it's a part of football game. That's why you see 105,000 people in the stands every week, because they care, because they're passionate. About what sometimes, I'm not sure, but that's a part of the game.
I mean, they want to win, and our guys are no different. That's why we came here, that's why all of our players came here, and we're not going to be mad at them now because they're not happy with us. We love them when they're with us, too.
We can't get caught up in those things, and I haven't yet to look at it. Like I said, in the last six weeks I don't know if I've turned a television set on. Yeah, why not? I've told you, I'm motivated a lot more by criticism than I am by praise. If it's out there, I don't mind it.

Q. Are you really motivated this week then?
COACH FICKELL: If I listened, yeah. I'm motivated every week. It's a part of the game. There's a lot of people that have the opportunity that you can say what you want to say, but until you do it, it's all talk, whether they've got ideas or I've got to stand up here with suggestions myself. It comes down to what you do, and that's the most important thing.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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