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November 13, 2012

Danny Hope

THE MODERATOR:  Welcome to week 11 of Purdue Football.  The Boilermakers will be heading to Illinois this weekend to take on the fighting Illini.  The game is scheduled for a 3:30 start and will be shown on the Big Ten network.  Going to get started with the callers on the phone.

Q.  Danny, just because of what they've been through physically, how about Robert and Ralph Bolden come through physically after that game on Saturday?  Did they hold up pretty well?
COACH HOPE:¬† Very well.¬† Again, any time you're playing as much as they did‑‑ Ralph rushed for over 100 yards, and Marve played almost the whole game at the quarterback position.¬† So they played a lot and really impacted the ball game.¬† But came back on Sunday and were not as sore as they thought they would be.¬† So we're in good shape with those two guys.

Q.¬† When you had a chance to look at the game film with your staff, anything jump out, besides getting the win ‑‑ obviously, that's the most important thing‑‑ but anything jump out that you did really, really well that you hope is a good sign for the rest of the season?
COACH HOPE:¬† I think we were able to stay two‑dimensional on offense.¬† We were able to go out and establish a run game.¬† We rushed for a little bit over 200 yards, and we protected our quarterback a little bit better and pitched and caught, and we were successful at it and able to stay two‑dimensional on offense, I thought was key last Saturday.¬† We want to stay two‑dimensional offensively.
And we had a lot of guys on defense that had been banged up that still are not completely healthy yet, but they are healthier than they have been, particularly across the defensive line.  So those two things really stick out in my mind, and hopefully we can build on those and be an even better team on Saturday.
>> Was that about as emotional, just because of what you've been through‑‑ and I know, I saw your comments on the Big Ten Network afterwards, and you said something to the effect of that's kind of what college football is all about.¬† I think‑‑ and correct me if I'm wrong‑‑ you were referring to just kind of battling through adversity and getting a hard earned win like that.¬† Was that about as emotional a win as you've had at Purdue?
COACH HOPE:¬† Well, we had a lot of fun.¬† We had a blast.¬† It was an emotional win for our football team.¬† I think, on the post‑game interview, I may have been referencing to the courage of Robert Marve and Ralph Bolden.¬† Guys playing in a ball game with the circumstances they've had from an injury standpoint, I think, really exemplifies what college football is all about, guys who want to be out there with their teammates and helping them win and really doing the extraordinary.
It really was an emotional win and an emotional ball game.  We just had a blast.  We really did.  We let it all hang out and played well all three phases, and our guys were into it for the whole 60 minutes, and we just had an absolute blast.  And winning is living, and we got to live some on Saturday.

Q.¬† Danny, on Marve‑‑ and I understand after the Notre Dame game, there was a period there of a few weeks where you really didn't know how much you were going to have him.¬† I mean, he had a torn ACL, so I understand you couldn't just put him back out there the next week.¬† But any regrets not going to him a little earlier?¬† Because it just seems like your team, for some reason, your guys really respond to him and stuff.
COACH HOPE:  He is quite a force, but, again, we had a quarterback that had started 13 games the season prior to that, and we had a winning season.  Caleb had done a great job throughout the 2011 season in regards to ball security.  He had gone 20 quarters without throwing a pick, had thrown for over 62 percent completion.  So we had a good winning, experienced quarterback coming back.
So there was competition.  There was never ever a controversy.  We had competition at the position, and Caleb had the edge and had proven he could do it on Saturdays on a consistent basis and put us in position to win.  And Robert had not had as many opportunities, based on injuries and missed reps and everything that kind of went along with that.
So, again, it came about as it did, and a lot of that had to do with factors beyond our control, but we always thought he was a heck of a player.  That's why we were committed to playing two quarterbacks.  We wanted to get Robert ready and get him on the field and see if he could make a difference and an impact to our football team.  As he got healthier and got more reps and played his position better, he certainly can, and he certainly is.

Q.  Danny, obviously, the offensive line played a pretty strong game on Saturday.  What was the key to doing that, and what's going to be the key to sustaining that the next two weeks?
COACH HOPE:  Well, I think, obviously, our guys were ready to play, and we have guys that have played their position now for a year.  We came into the season with a talented offensive line but not a real experienced offensive line, very few starts collectively.
Some guys had been moved over in the latter part of their career from the defensive side of the ball, so there wasn't a lot of experience.  There wasn't a lot of synchronization at the position.  They've played together now some, and they've improved.  It's a very athletic offensive line and a more experienced offensive line, significantly more experienced now than they were at the beginning of the season.
For some of these guys, the light is coming on in some of the technical aspects of their game.  It's huge, particularly at the offensive line position.  So we're getting better.  There is some talent there.  We're more experienced now, and we're improving.

Q.  When you look at the kick Griggs made to win it and all the pressure and everything, what can that potentially do for him in terms of confidence, in terms of maybe being the kicker you envisioned when you recruited him?
COACH HOPE:¬† I think it can be a huge career builder in some ways.¬† It can be a difference maker.¬† Four years ago Carson Wiggs came out against Ohio State and hit a 59‑yarder and gave us a big edge in the ball game and really gave our team a lift, and it was a difference maker in a huge ball game.¬† And I thought that really impacted his kicking career at Purdue, how he went about his preparation and his commitment to it.¬† I thought that was a huge kick for him.
And I would assume that the kick this past weekend for Paul Griggs could be a career kick or a difference maker in his career in a lot of ways.  Very similar scenarios.

Q.¬† How is he‑‑ and I know you haven't maybe had a whole lot of practices, but does he seem to‑‑ can you tell the difference in him, or is it too early to tell?
COACH HOPE:  I saw him go by on a cloud earlier, but other than that, we haven't practiced much.  He'll shank a couple in practice, and we'll get him back to earth pretty quick, I assure you of that.  It won't last long.  It never does.

Q.  And then the last, obviously, Illinois has had some struggles, struggles with scores, struggles to stop people scoring, but when you look at them, what problems do they present?
COACH HOPE:  They're very talented, and they play hard.  There's some newness about the systems they're employing this season.  They're very, very talented on defense.  Similar to our defense, very, very talented, but they're doing a lot of things for the first time.  They have new coordinators, a new staff.  So some new things.  So it's been a developmental process.
But they're very, very talented on defense.  They bring a lot of pressure.  Against Minnesota, they probably pressured at least 60 to 70 percent of the time.  So they create a real challenge for your offensive front.
Offensively, the quarterback is a great athlete.  He's an experienced player.  They have a big talented offensive line, very athletic offensive line with good size, some skill makers on the perimeter.  But you don't look at the scoreboard.  You watch them play, and you realize it will be a challenge for our football team because they're a very, very talented football team and still playing very hard.

Q.  Taylor Richards made a couple of big plays for you late in that game.  Is that sort of indicative of his progress here as a player in recent weeks?
COACH HOPE:  I think he's a heck of a player, and we spread him thin at times throughout the course of the season.  We had him in different roles and different packages, and it's a lot, and the offense has presented a lot.  And I think that he has a much better understanding of the defense now, and he's playing better.
But I think he's an outstanding football player and gives you a great effort.  Not surprised to see him rally up and make some tackles, stopping the ball carrier on a dime in key situations.
He's fearless when he's healthy.  So I'm not surprised to see him playing that way.  I think he's a good safety, a little undersized as a safety in some ways, but very aggressive, and he triggers fast, and he's a very good pass defender.  I also think he's a good corner prospect as well.  I think he can play any position in our back half.
That's one of the reasons why he's a starter.  He was behind Josh and Ricardo at the corner position but too good to be waiting his turn to play.  He's a very good football player.

Q.  He probably gives up about 75 pounds to that tight end that he brought down.  Is that just a sign a little bit that he fundamentally can be pretty good?
COACH HOPE:  Well, he's an aggressive guy, and he'll accelerate and throw his body, and he's wide open in his play.  But he is a good technician, and you don't bring a big guy like that down to the ground and stop him like that unless you do things fundamentally right.  And he is a good technician and a good football player, and he's easy to coach.  We just ask a lot of him.

Q.  What's the status of Raheem Mostert this week?  Do you think you could possibly get him back?
COACH HOPE:  Maybe.  We'll try him out some today.  He hasn't done anything.  We haven't seen him do anything.  But the timetable is coming up where he could become available.  We'll work him out a little today and see how he looks, and then we'll see how he responds tomorrow.  If he gets real sore tomorrow, that's not a good sign.  If he can come back tomorrow and do a little and not be real sore, then maybe he can play.
Right now 50‑50.¬† It's up in the air.¬† We'll see how he does today and how he moves around tomorrow, and we'll know.

Q.  What about Brandon Taylor?
COACH HOPE:  I don't believe he'll play this weekend.  He's still sore, very sore.
I think we're healthier.  Same guys that have been banged up are still banged up.  They were not as banged up last week.  That's a good thing.  I think K.K. was healthier than he was the week before.  I think Bruce maybe was healthier than he was the week before.  And Ryan Russell was healthier than he was the week before.
They're still not 100 percent, and it's still a ways off.  We have to manage their reps and get them ready to play at the same time, and that's a challenge.  But we have a chance to be healthier this week than last week, and that's a good thing because he'll always play better.
ANDERSON:  We haven't seen E.J. Johnson recently.  What is his injury situation?
COACH HOPE:  Well, hopefully.  He's kind of like Raheem.  We're going to get him back here and try him out and see what he can do.  When you're playing back in the secondary, you've really got to be schooled up on your assignments and alignments.  So he's probably behind a little bit as far as being ready to play from an assignment standpoint, but he could come out and help us on special teams right away.
We'll see what he does in practice today and see how sore he is tomorrow, and maybe he could be in a position to help some.  I don't see him being a major factor in the secondary this weekend.

Q.  I'm not sure we know his injury.  You care to give what extremity location it may be.
COACH HOPE:  Who, E.J.?  Lower.

Q.  Lower.  That's a little bit more than what we knew.
COACH HOPE:  There you go.

Q.  What about Gabe?
COACH HOPE:  I think he's maybe probable, maybe probable.  We'll see how he does.  He got hit in the side, and he's got a long body.  So he gets hit in the side, that's a lot.

Q.  Besides the two freshmen kickers you have, how would you kind of evaluate the play so far this year of freshmen Brown and Watson?
COACH HOPE:  They've done very well.  We may have asked more earlier in the season out of Anthony Brown than any of them.  He was playing more and in position to play a lot.  I've been very pleased with him.  He's got good size to be as skilled as he is.  He's probably 6 foot, 190 pounds, and he's only a freshman, and he's very, very fast.
He's played some in the secondary for us and played some in special teams.  He has a good football IQ, and he's into it, and he's very low maintenance to get him ready to play.  That's a good sign for a freshman.
Ryan Watson, who's a great try hard guy and plays with good leverage.  He moved up the ranks some as guys got banged up and did well in camp.  But he's originally more of a spare part earlier going into the season and has played more the last couple of weeks as we've been banged up across the defensive front.  So him showing up to camp ready to play and giving a good effort and us taking the redshirt off earlier in the year is a good thing because it worked out we had to have him in the games anyway.
But I wasn't sure about him earlier in camp.  And Anthrop, he keeps getting better and better.  He's one of our better football players.  He could be a heck of a player here at Purdue.  He's probably our top two or three players on special teams, whether he's the off returner or kickoff return or the guy you use on punt return, wherever you play him at, he's very aggressive and very fast and puts everything he has into his play.  So I have really been impressed with him.  I think we hit the jackpot when we got Danny Anthrop here at Purdue.

Q.  Is Watson going to tackle going forward?
COACH HOPE:¬† Well, it kind of depends on numbers and how things pan out.¬† In the league that we play in, we're going to need some guys big enough to play out there at the end position that can hold up against some of the double‑teams from the big tackles and the tight ends that can also move down and play inside some.¬† He's a guy that kind of fits into that mold in some ways now.
If you look at him, he looks like an inside guy, though.

Q.  So kind of like what Ryan Isaac does for you?
COACH HOPE:  Similar.

Q.  The run game, obviously, you had a great effort last week.  When you look statistically at the next two opponents you play, Illinois is 78th in the country in run defense and Indiana is 118 out of 120.  Why does running the ball help your offense, and especially when you look at the way Ralph seems to be healthier now and Akeem Shavers kind of grinding out?  Do you feel that part of your offense can really help?
COACH HOPE:  I think it has to.  I think it takes pressure off the quarterback.  I think it does some things to open up your passing game.  It certainly impacts the potential of your play action pass package in your offense.
I think our offensive line is getting better.  This weekend, regardless of the numbers, to manufacture the run game against Illinois could be tough because they bring a lot of pressure.  You've got to have a lot of movement, and that's a challenge for your offensive line.  You have to have good healthy backs that are running hard.  We've been in good shape with that the last couple of weeks.
We spread it around a little bit.  I don't know how many backs we have that are ranked in the top six, seven, eight ball carriers in the Big Ten.  I don't believe any.  But we spread the ball around and that allows us to stay fresh at the running back position and have backs that can finish runs.
I thought that was really evident in the ball game this past Saturday watching Akeem Shavers run the football and watch him finish runs, and same with Ralph Bolden and all the guys that played in the backfield were physical and finishing runs, and we're going to have to stay in that form in order to be able to establish a run game.  We have the speed to get outside, and we have the physicality to maybe run the ball some in between the tackles, and that's a good thing.
We're obviously going to have to be able to establish a run game this weekend and throughout the course of the season in order for us to be two‑dimensional.¬† That's really, really important.¬† We're not as good when the defense knows we're limited and they have the upper hand.¬† We need to try to stay two‑dimensional as an offense.¬† Balance is very important for us.

Q.  How do you think Ryan Russell has played this year?  I believe he's dealt with a knee injury.
COACH HOPE:¬† He started off playing great.¬† I really felt going into the season he was top two, three, four defensive end prospects and performers, would‑be performers in the Big Ten.¬† He was very physical early in the season and played with great leverage and was able to knock them back and really impact what happened across the line of scrimmage, and he still can now that he's getting healthier.
But there were three or four weeks in there that his performance was negated some just based on health, and I appreciate him going out there and playing and sucking it up.  It's tough to go out there and play and play hard and not be able to play your best based on an injury.  I appreciate him being out there and trying to help us win.
He's healthier now.  He did much better last week than he did the two weeks prior to that.  He's not where he was at when the season first began.  I believe, if he continues to regain his health, we can minimize his reps in practice or not aggravate it in practice, that he could finish the season strong.
Getting into postseason play, play well and get in the postseason play, that time off could really allow him to finish very well in the final game of the season.  So still some good football ahead for him, but he's had some struggles just based on injuries.

Q.  It would help your offense to generate some yards in the punt return game.  You haven't really done that this year.  You're only averaging four yards a return.  What contributed to some of those struggles?
COACH HOPE:¬† There's a lot of good punters in our league and guys that get some real height on it.¬† We go into‑‑ we study it, and Coach Gibboney does a good job with the special teams.¬† We go into the ball games with some idea of what we're going to have to do to manufacture some type of production in every phase of special teams, and punt returns is no exception.
And we've gone to a lot of ball games saying, hey, we're going to be fielding a lot of kicks.  The key to being successful as a punt return team this week is making good decisions and fielding the kicks.  So we have faced some punters that have put a lot of height on the ball, a lot of hang time on the ball, which makes it difficult at times to manufacture a punt return.  We even put two punt returners back there some against some of the punters that were maybe a little more erratic to give us a chance to manufacture a return, but we haven't had as many opportunities.
This past weekend, we maybe could have had some opportunities.  We didn't do a very good job of controlling the gunners, the guys that were spread out wide.  Their job is like bullets, they head down the field in pursuit of the punt return man.  We didn't do a good job of controlling the gunners this weekend, or maybe we could have generated a little more punt return this weekend.
But the opportunity, sometimes we go into ball games, you figure how many punts they're going to have in a normal game.  You look at the guy's average and figure field some, and we might get one.  Same with a kickoff return sometime.  We haven't had that many opportunities with the return punts.

Q.  Good afternoon.  With the running backs, would you like to see them more involved in the passing game?
COACH HOPE:  Eventually.  And protection has a lot to do with that.  I think we're getting better at protecting the quarterback, and at times you've utilized our backs in the protection, give us some backup help.
A couple of years ago, we were in the same room, and people were saying, would you like to utilize your tight ends more?  And we say, yeah, we're using them in the protection some.  So we use the backs in the protection some, and that's important.  If we can give Robert Marve time, there's a good chance he's going to complete a pass.  So we're really committed to the protection part of it right now.
Absolutely, we'd love to involve them more in the passing game and have tried to get the tight ends more involved.  Our passing game is expanding and becoming more efficient and a better weapon for our team.  So absolutely.

Q.  You fixed a couple big plays with your backs this year.  Akeem Shavers comes to mind.  Ralph kind of got involved a little bit last week.  Do you feel there's big play potential with your running backs?
COACH HOPE:  There is.  And there's lots of ways we can get the balls to the running backs, screens or trick plays or delayed routes out of the backfield or emptying out to where you have no backs in the backfield and really put a stretch on the defense.  There's a lot of ways we can get the ball to our running backs.  I think we are big play potential.
Right now we have some plays that are decision plays.  We can make a decision where we hand it off or throw the ball.  Sometimes we're handing the ball off, and a lot of times our quarterbacks make the decision to throw it.  Sometimes that can negate the number of runs we have throughout the course of the ball game, but I like our backs.  I think they're running hard right now, and I think we've got some numbers at the position, and we need to be able to establish the run game.

Q.¬† You talked earlier about balance and being two‑dimensional, in your words.¬† Was last week, the fact that you played with a lead, how much did it help you maybe establish that balance?
COACH HOPE:¬† I think it helps a lot.¬† If you can get behind two or three scores‑‑ again, against Minnesota a couple weeks ago, we didn't run very many plays, and we were down 24‑7.¬† Be around a double digit number of plays, and we were down 24‑7.¬† The game plan that you had, it kind of goes by the side in some ways.
So it's huge if you can be in the ball game or get ahead and stay ahead.  I felt like going in this ball game, if we could get ahead and stay ahead, our guys would build momentum on it, and it would be a difference maker from a confidence standpoint as a football team.  So it was huge to play well Saturday.  We'd always like to get ahead and stay ahead, just didn't always work that way.

Q.  Just with your tackle positions with Kitchens and Pamphile, what do you like about those two, and where does Trevor Foy fit in the mix?
COACH HOPE:  He's right in the mix.  I really see him all the same.  Kitchens was playing a little better than Trevor in a couple of games.  So he kind of earned a starting position.
And Pamphile, he had plateaued there for a while.  He was kind of in the same place as a player there for a while.  Really in the last four weeks, I think the light has come on for him some.  You see him doing a lot more of the little things in practice that indicates he's become more of a polished technician at his position, and it's going to allow him to play more aggressive, and he's done better in the games.
He had some holding calls the other day‑‑ I think he had two or three holding calls in the game the other day.¬† One was where he sat there and blocked his man.¬† They fired a corner off the edge.¬† He was going to the quarterback blind side, so he made an easy tough decision and reached out and grabbed him before he tomahawked the quarterback in the back of the head.¬† But he's got to do a better job of keeping his hands inside.
If you took the holding penalties out of the ball game, he really did a lot of good things.  He gets more good plays now than he was at the beginning of the year.  A guy can be playing in the game and you're grading him and you can give him a plus on the play, but he can be a great job or just barely got that plus.  It averages out the same in some ways.
I think he's doing a better job of getting plus plays that have checks and stars around them, more really good blocks and a lot less average blocks.  So I think he's really improved.

Q.  I'm sure that's a penalty you can live with when the quarterback still remains upright.
COACH HOPE:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Protect our guy.

Q.  Just kind of evaluate Josh Johnson's career.  He's a guy that came in as a true freshman and really hasn't left the field since he got here.  Just kind of where his career has evolved.
COACH HOPE:  He's played a lot.  He's done great in school.  Been a very good student here, always been As and Bs, never been a maintenance issue.  Always been on task and a guy you could trust.  So a good teammate and a real quality person.  He's skilled, and he's got a good work ethic about him and puts a lot of effort into practice and into the ball games.
He's been very reliable.  He probably hasn't gotten as much credit maybe as he deserves, based on the number of reps that he's gotten and the big games that he's played in, but he's been very reliable and very steady throughout his entire career here at Purdue.

Q.  Illinois' offense has obviously struggled this year, but what kind of stuff do you have to worry about them?  Obviously, they've got some players you have to watch out for.
COACH HOPE:  They're good players, exactly.  They have a big offensive line, big guys that can really move their feet.  Even though they haven't won as many games as they'd like, they're still playing hard.  You watch them on film, and they're getting after it and play hard.
They have big offensive linemen that are very athletic, and they move their feet well.  They have an experienced quarterback that's a dual threat quarterback.  At times when the protection is good, he does a good job with the football.
They present a lot.  They do a lot of different things offensively.  They have several different running plays and schemes that can feature the quarterback and any number of plays in the backfield and three or four different blocking schemes with the offensive line.  So they present a lot to your defense.  So there's a lot to prepare for when you get ready to play these guys.
Offensively, they've got big players.  Big, athletic offensive linemen.  A very experienced and athletic quarterback.  Good running back, very good running back, physical and good size and good speed.  And they've got excellent skill out on the perimeter.  So offensively, they have a potential.  They've got to put it all together.
There's some tough defenses in our league, and we look back over the season, and there's several times we're matched up against one of the top defenses in the country.  Week in and week out.

Q.  You have an idea yet whether Gary is going to be able to come with you to Champaign?
COACH HOPE:  I don't know whether he is or not.  My gut feeling is he's not able to go to practice or come to work.  If that doesn't change pretty soon, I don't know if he'll be in position to travel or not.  I don't know.  We'll know towards the end of the week.

Q.  When we talk about coordinators, we obviously talk mostly about play calling.  But how about putting the game together during the week?
COACH HOPE:¬† It hasn't changed much.¬† All of those guys had been in the room doing it together, and everybody has a lot of say‑so.¬† There's not any one guy that has that much autonomy or a dictator in the room.¬† Everybody has a lot of input.¬† There's a ton of hours that's put in.
One thing for sure, once you put the game plan together, no one complains about it on Sunday after the ball game.  You put the plays on the play sheet, we all believed in them.  If you call the plays and they don't work, it's on all of us.  We don't second guess them on Sunday.
They'll go about their business as they have.¬† He's got a few ways about him play calling‑wise, style‑wise.¬† From an organizational standpoint, he's very experienced at the play call.¬† He's done it before.¬† He was the offensive coordinator at Texas El Paso, UTEP for Coach Nord when Coach Nord was a head coach there.¬† So this is not his first time doing it.
He's very good at it and outstanding with clock management and very bright.  We've got a good play caller, and he's got a good handle on it, and we're going about our business in the normal fashion, but he does have his own play calling styles.

Q.  Did you call the same plays on Saturday that he had been before, and you just blocked and caught the ball?
COACH HOPE:  We executed better, absolutely.  We had three drops before and two drops this past Saturday.  We went in the ball game knowing that we had to be much more detailed in our route running.  We haven't been as detailed in our route running the last couple of weeks.  We had to complete coverage, which allows you to pitch and catch better.  We have to go out and protect better to give Robert a chance.
We did a better job of that this past weekend, which resulted in more successful passing plays, but the same plays.  We didn't put any new plays in.

Q.  Hi, coach.  The last two or three days, have you seen a different team, a more relaxed team, a team with a little more bounce in his step?
COACH HOPE:  I think we went into the football game relaxed.  That hasn't been the case throughout the course of the season.  At one point in the season, where we get some guys banged up and the competition's tough and we lose a couple of tough games and tough situations and things can get tight.  I think we were a lot more loose this past weekend, and that was one of our goals going into the ball game, just kind of let it all hang out and have a ball and get after it and have fun.
If we did that, if we had enough good players, then things will come out our way.  We didn't play a perfect game.  We have some turnovers and made some mistakes, but really had a lot of fun playing a game.  If we play with that type of energy and that type of emotion and that type of heart this weekend, we'll be successful again.

Q.  Is that something as a coach that you talk to them about or that you can coach things about?
COACH HOPE:  We talked about it all week long.  What we were going to have to do in order to win the ball game.  And one of them was we couldn't go in there tight as a football team.  Couldn't do it.  We hadn't won there in 20 years.  Half of our football team wasn't born the last time Purdue won in Iowa.
So you couldn't make too big a deal out of all that.  Certainly a fantastic prize to go after, a signature win in some ways, but we had to go in there loose and wide open and having fun playing the game, and we did.  We had a blast Saturday.

Q.¬† I know you didn't expect to be talking about trying to make‑‑ you know, become bowl eligible at this point in the season.¬† Is that something that you also talked to your team about now?
COACH HOPE:¬† Absolutely.¬† Any time that you have a winning season and you get in the postseason play and have a chance to win in postseason play, that's a successful season.¬† We have a lot of guys that put a hell of a lot of effort into this season.¬† It's been years working for this season, and they really worked hard all‑‑ in the off‑season to get themselves ready for this season, this opportunity.
So postseason play is a great reward for our football team, absolutely.

Q.  Brian asked you about the Illinois offense.  Just from a talent standpoint defensively, how talented is Illinois on defense?
COACH HOPE:  They're very talented.  I think one of the more talented defensive units that we have faced.  A lot of speed.  They have some really good pass rushers, outstanding defensive end in Buchanan, rated as a top NFL pick.  A couple of very big, athletic defensive tackles.  Strong linebackers that come downhill and hit, Hawthorne, the big defensive back, is one of the top players at his position.  He's outstanding.  So they're a very, very talented football team.

Q.  Danny, what would it mean to Gary to get the game ball?
COACH HOPE:¬† Well, we haven't really done it officially as a team.¬† He knows that we're going to give it to him.¬† We told him on the telephone, but he‑‑ him not being there really was kind of an eye‑opener for some of us because, just as a player, you never know when it's all going to be taken away from you.
So he was texting the team, and he was texting them back and giving his encouragement, but it was really tough for him not to be there.
We're trying to win a key ball game, and everyone wants to do something to impact the outcome of the ball game.  That was one of the things we talked about as a football team Friday night and Saturday.  Everyone be thinking about what you're going to do today to make the difference.  All of a sudden, you can't be there, and you're the play caller, you're the offensive coordinator.
So he really wanted to be there, and I think our players recognized that, and I think that added some to our cause that day.

Q.  I've dealt with it firsthand, just back injuries are awful.  Just how are his spirits, Danny?  That's got to be hard on him.
COACH HOPE:¬† He's a hard guy to keep down from a spirit standpoint.¬† Obviously, when you coach as long as he has‑‑ he's coached for 30‑something years.¬† Thursday was the first day he's ever‑‑ first practice he's missed ever in 31 years.¬† So that sets a guy back a little bit.¬† We work a lot, and we're committed to it.
When you're not there, it's just tough to deal with.  You feel guilty.  You feel guilty you're not there to be able to pull the rope for the rest of your teammates.  It's a great team sport and really second to none.  He really has some struggles with it.  Really has some struggles with it.

Q.¬† Danny, I know most teams, you focus on your team and getting ready, but at some point do you address with‑‑ you mentioned that Illinois hasn't had the record they wanted, but do you ever address the fact that, one, they haven't won for a while and yet they're still playing hard, and, two, it is their senior day.
COACH HOPE:  I think they'll see those things on film.  They look at a lot of film on the opponent, and they can certainly see the quality of the play that's on the field and the quality of the players.  Obviously, we have to win if we want to go into postseason play.  So we're going to have to be ready to play.
It's going to be about us, but they watch the film, and they get the scouting reports, and they know the challenge.

Q.  My final thing, Danny, and I'm not asking for comparisons, but you've always coached a position where guys have to be tough and smart.  Through your coaching career, Robert Marve's toughness, is it up there?
COACH HOPE:¬† It's way up there, and there's been a lot of tough guys over the years, but just the courage to go out there, to play in the game from a health standpoint and the unknown part of it in any play that you‑‑ it may not hold up.¬† And then there's also dealing with the pain and everything that goes with that.
His toughness, no question about it.  I think it speaks for itself.  You can watch and play.  Just the passion that he has for the game and being on the field with his teammates is something I think that is just really special and refreshing in a lot of ways.

Q.¬† One more thing.¬† Tell me if I'm wrong.¬† I think that's the most plays that he's played in a long, long time.¬† I'm just asking, when you saw him Sunday, how did he say he felt conditioning‑wise?
COACH HOPE:  Great.  He's in good shape, ready to go.  Ready to win again.
THE MODERATOR:  Anything else for Coach Hope?  Coach, appreciate your time.
COACH HOPE:  Thanks, guys.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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