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December 29, 2014
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA
Q.Â People who watched the Big Ten championship game at the end of the game with about a minute to go Urban came over to you started to congratulate and celebrate the win.Â The first shutout in the history of the conference championship game.Â I know you've had up and down times the last three or four years with the defense, whatever, what did that moment mean for him to come over and publicly acknowledge, hey you guys did a great job, within the context of that game?
COACH FICKELL:Â It was a little bit weird at the time because.
Q.Â The game was still going on.
COACH FICKELL:Â The game was still going on.Â We had a mindset that the most important thing we had to do was finish.Â And we had talked about it at halftime, talked about it throughout the third quarter, and the reality was we had to finish.Â There was a minute and 20 to go.
But it was a great feeling.Â It really is to be acknowledged.Â But it was such a special time, such a special feeling for those guys, for those young guys that had been through some ups and downs and had been through some situations in the past that they feel like, hey, we haven't performed like we should.
And so all in all, whether it was to me or to somebody else, it was an acknowledgment to the entire defense that job well done and anytime there's some praise and some of those things that go a long way not only for confidence but for the momentum of what you do too.
Q.Â On their offense, is it like anything you've seen, are there players better than what you've seen, and how big a challenge is Amari Cooper?
COACH FICKELL:Â There's many challenges, but as a whole I don't know we've seen an offense like this.Â To be honest with you the size of the offensive line, the tailbacks they can roll in there.Â Obviously Amari Cooper gets most of the attention.Â The reality is we haven't seen a guy especially in our league that would warrant as much attention as he does.
Kind of reminds you a little bit going back to the last bowl game and playing Sammy Watkins and things like that.Â But just as soon as you start focusing on one guy and one thing, there's a couple of other things that can really hurt you and the reality is you've got to play great team defense.Â Do some things obviously to limit what it is they do and try to focus on the guy‑‑
Q.Â How about the love from Urban in that moment.
COACH FICKELL:Â Again, it was a time in the game when things weren't quite done yet, and we had talked about it the whole time.Â Halftime through the third quarter about the finish and what we had to do.Â And so at the moment, at the time with a minute and a half to go, we were still on a mission.
And the big thing we had to do was finish that game.Â The acknowledgment was big.Â It wasn't just big for me.Â It wasn't big for anybody in particular but it was big for the entire unit, the entire defense.Â Those guys have worked so hard and had some ups and downs, but to be acknowledged in something like that, but also to finish that game was something that was, it was special for all those guys.
Q.Â You shut them out.
COACH FICKELL:Â That was then.
Q.Â Easily the best performance by you and the entire D?
COACH FICKELL:Â It was.Â To be honest with you, throughout the entire year we've had some moments where we've played really, really, really good, the thing that's happened at times we've had a little bit of lapses, and sometimes that's to youth.Â Sometimes that's to whatever it is.Â Sometimes that's to being up three, four touchdowns at times and things you take a little step back and you relax a little bit and you let some guys get back in the games and put some points on the board that really were unnecessary.
But for those guys to mature past a lot of that to finish the focus, and to finish the way they did was a great night.
Q.Â Will that kind of effort keep you in this game?
COACH FICKELL:Â There's something that those kind of things do for you as well.Â It's great obviously to have the shutout and all those things.Â But college football is a game of momentum.Â It's a game of confidence as well, and that's one of those things that going through a game like that and finishing like that, performing like that, that gives a lot of these guys a boost.Â Gives everybody a boost.
You knew it was inside them.Â You knew they had it.Â You just wanted to see it really come to fruition and see them really finish something like that.Â That goes a long way with momentum and confidence.
Q.Â Why do you say you've never seen anything like this offense?
COACH FICKELL:Â Again, this year we have not.Â They've got weapons all over the place.Â That's the thing, that's the thing that gets overlooked sometimes is the offensive line.Â That's where the games start and that's where they've been so successful over obviously the last seven, eight years.
There's a lot of first round draft running backs and things but they aren't first round draft running backs without great offensive lines.Â I think that's the thing that gets overlooked in the midst of T.J. Yeldon and Amari Cooper and the guys that are scoring touchdowns and the names that everybody hears about, but the reality is that they're going to start up front and they're going to go as their offensive line goes as well.
And I think that's one of the big things that we probably haven't seen an offensive line like this throughout the entire season.Â And that's going to be a big challenge to a lot of our guys.
Q.Â That's going to be a war up front?
COACH FICKELL:Â It is.Â It's going to be a war up front.Â If you spend too much time focusing on other things, you know, in particular Amari Cooper, you focus on stopping the pass or some different things, and things can get away from you real quick.Â They can dominate the line of scrimmage.Â That's where the game is won.
Q.Â Are there certain things with Lane's offense that have done well over the years that you always have to be on the lookout for?
COACH FICKELL:Â Again, the big play strikes are something that any defense has to warn against.Â I think that's one of the things you see in the last three weeks, probably three of their best performances offensively they've had.Â Going back to the Auburn game and Missouri game, but it's some of those big play strikes.
You see a little bit more the tempo of things.Â You can see them probably coming into their own more so than maybe they did at the beginning of the year.Â Seen some of the changes and those kinds of things.
But that's where you really start to say, as that ball gets rolling that's what you've got to worry about.Â You can't allow that momentum to get rolling, them to get on that pace where they can hurry the game up and then give up the big shots.
Q.Â How do you keep the balance in preparing for an offense like Alabama?
COACH FICKELL:Â Balance is the key to everything you do.Â I don't carewhat it is ‑‑ if you're an offense and you don't have balance with somebody, they can gang up on different things.
But we can't lose focus.Â That's the big thing.Â Everybody gets caught up with, like I said, Amari Cooper and stopping Amari Cooper, stopping Amari Cooper.Â Well, that's not something you truly could do.Â You gotta make sure you're smart and limit the things they can do.Â If you focus on just one thing, the other things is what's going to kill you.Â You've got to have balance.Â That's what I think we've done throughout the entire season is we've had the ability defensively to really continue to do what it is we've done, have balance in what we've done.
Not saying we've been stellar against every little thing, not like we're No. 1 in the country in rush defense but the reality is we've had balance in what we've done that's what we've got to hang our hat on.
Q.Â Talk about the preparation and you have the three and a half weeks between games and the game played two weeks ago, do you feel the defense is hitting the peak now this week?
COACH FICKELL:Â We've talked about it all year.Â Obviously the season goes in phases as well.Â But we didn't want our guys to be so worried and so focused on the evaluation of what we do and how we do throughout the entire season.Â The reality is we want them to focus on the moment.Â That's why we kind of got rid of having all those goals and things.Â We have objectives because 18 to 22 years old it's tough to look at those long‑term things.Â Everything is instant nowadays.
So objectives just like we went into this preparation this game, in three phases, I'm sure Coach talked about.Â Fundamental phase.Â The ability to be in condition and the ability to introduce Alabama and then the last phase of really truly preparing and honing our skills to play January1st.
And I think our guys have accepted that.Â You go through 15 practices for one game.Â It's hard to sometimes to keep your mental focus.Â But the idea the way that the coaches went about it in three phases I think is really going to give us an opportunity to peak come January1.
Q.Â What kind of statement does your unit want to make in terms of showing the country you belong in the Final Four?
COACH FICKELL:Â You know, we can't get caught up in those kinds of things.Â Obviously that's for everybody out there.Â We know we want to go out there and perform the way we have.Â Put everything together.Â Coach talks about nine units strong defensively.Â And offensively.Â And special teams‑wise but if we really get caught up in trying to prove something, I don't think that's what we go out there for.Â We go out there to play the game, to play the game the right way, put our best foot forward, and we truly believe that's good enough.
We let everybody else kind of figure out based on what happens in the game at who belongs, because that's the beauty of what college football is.Â No matter what happens these four teams will be scrutinized and picked apart up and down regardless of what happens here in the next two and a half, three weeks.
But I think that's what makes college football great.Â It keeps people talking about it for 10, 11 months of the year.
Q.Â You're really complimentary of Cooper, what does he do that separates him from the normal player?
COACH FICKELL:Â It's not just the catch, to me it's the runs after the catch.Â These guys that obviously can go up and make some big plays and catch the ball, but the ability to make something when there's nothing there.Â For a guy that cannot only have the deep ball, home run shots, but he can take an out screen and turn it into a touchdown long distance.
He does the intangible things.Â He's going to block and do some things that sometimes you don't see the guys‑‑ the first‑rounders or the truly top, top dogs do.
So I think what we've seen one of the most complete players we've played against.
Q.Â How do you compare him to Sammy Watkins from a year ago, any similarities?
COACH FICKELL:Â I think there's going to be a lot of similarities.Â I don't know.Â I mean, I think maybe there was a little bit different the way they used Sammy.
But in the last three weeks, I think that's what I've noticed from Lane's offense‑wise is finding ways to put that guy, motion in and out of the backfield.Â Finding different ways they can get him the ball.Â So very similar in a lot of things they did with Sammy Watkins as well.Â I think that offense has maybe evolved a little bit closer to what we faced last year against Clemson.
Q.Â It's going to be a different kind of opponent.Â But any carry‑over from the performance in the Big Ten title game just from maybe a swagger standpoint from your guys?
COACH FICKELL:Â There's no doubt.Â I mean, like you said, this is a game of momentum.Â This is a game of confidence.Â And if you don't have it you better try to find it.
It's one of those things that coming off that last week, the performance as we move throughout the entire season.Â That's what our guys have.Â They have a confidence level.Â They've got some of that swagger.Â And it's not just about how they play, but how they finish.Â And I think that's a big part of what we do.Â You've got that momentum.Â You're almost hoping you played this game two weeks ago, where you still had that momentum and the great feeling in your body.
But the reality is it's January1 and gotta make sure those guys don't lose sight of how they played the last game and what it takes to be successful in this game as well.
Q.Â As you look at these guys, matchup and strength‑wise, do you match up well with them or are there going to be some‑‑
COACH FICKELL:Â There's issues at times.Â I mean, again, defensively sometimes the biggest thing we can do is try to put them on the defense.
We have to sit there and say, hey, we've got to match up and try to stop every little thing they do, sometimes you say, hey, defensively we'll be aggressive enough, what do we do about a Joey Bosa, or what do we do if they do this, what do we do if they do that, as opposed to us always sitting up in our room and worrying about every little thing they do.
The reality is we've got our guys, they've got their guys and we're comfortable with who we got.Â Does that mean we'll run a guy all the way across the ball and try to match up specific things, no, we're confident with the guys we've got.Â They can do the jobs we ask them to do.
And it's what it's going to come down is in‑game adjustments.Â Because when things start to happen, your ability to adjust and adapt throughout the entire game because everybody is going to do some new things, that's going to be the key to the ballgame.
Q.Â Going into the Big Ten championship game none of us had seen Cardale.Â You've obviously seen him a lot and played a lot on the defensive end.Â What confidence‑‑ he had so much confidence going into that game.Â What do you guys see in him now that he's here that led to the game he had and now the start of this game?
COACH FICKELL:Â Like anything, it's all about opportunities.Â And sometimes guys just don't get those opportunities.Â And when they do get their opportunities, what do they do with them?
And I think that was the thing about Cardale, is he's been through some tough times in the sense he's had some really, really good football players in front of him.Â The situations‑‑ you make your own situations.Â But the reality is sometimes you don't.Â Sometimes you don't get those opportunities.
And finally Cardale got his opportunity, got it obviously in the spotlight time, and he took the most of it.Â I don't see Cardale going backwards.Â That's the interesting thing, is there's nothing‑‑ momentum and confidence, it's really tough to stop.Â And when a guy gets it, they become a different person.
I think you can see a little bit of that in Cardale.Â And that's probably one thing that he hadn't had and when he's got it now, man, you guys saw him, he's a different person.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports