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ROSE BOWL GAME: MICHIGAN STATE v STANFORD


December 28, 2013


Dave Warner


PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

Q.¬† Dave, you were talking earlier about the 50/50 balls and trying to get‑‑ how maybe that was the spark.¬† Did that just sort of happen or‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Just sort of happened.  It just sort of happened.  No, I'm not sure there was anything different that took place during the bye week.
Again, we struggled a little bit early on and we're expecting some of those young guys to give them more of an opportunity.  But when those guys start making those catches, you know, like I said sort of snowball.  Tony started it off, if I remember right, had the good game.  And Fowler followed it up next week.  And those guys became solid.
It was the point earlier in the year, if a ball was dropped, it was like, oh, man, another drop.  Then after they started rolling with it, it was like if anybody dropped the ball it wasn't a big deal anymore.  It was sort of, okay, it happens let's move forward.
And that helped.  When you get to that point where it's not a major deal where a ball's on the ground, just makes it that much easier.

Q.  You said after the Notre Dame game, staff got together and said, all right, we're going to go with Connor time, we gotta do that.  Is there a certain amount of fear you had to overcome at that point and say I'm going to live with the consequences?
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, I guess.  But, again, that's with every position.  The quarterbacksare the guys that are going to have all eyes on them.  We knew it was going to be growing pains there.  We knew it was going to be growing pains from the start of the season.  It's just that we took a little bit of time to get to that point where we're going to say here's our guy, we're going with him.

Q.  How did that happen?  Mentally being able to just push that aside, especially after all of last year and all the talk about the drops and everything?
COACH WARNER:  From our standpoint?

Q.  From the player's standpoint.
COACH WARNER:  How did it happen?  We started catching consistently?

Q.¬† When they were able to put drops‑‑ that was a snowball thing?
COACH WARNER:  I guess it was.  I guess it was just a situation where we had that Indiana game, I guess it was, Youngstown State, I know we caught the ball well, the Indiana game, really when all that started coming together, we went a long time where we were consistently making good catches.  Lippett going up over the middle making catches, and Fowler's getting ricocheted balls and hauling it in for big plays.
And that just happened over and over and over, and we weren't dropping the football.¬† And so it's just there‑‑ just a confidence level.
So much of it was a confidence level I think with our offense from every position that we just got to the point where we felt like we were good and that's what we preached throughout the beginning stages where we can be a very good offense.
And even when we got to that point, my message a lot of weeks to our offense was, hey, okay, we're rolling now; this is good.¬† But understand this, we can still‑‑ we can still get to this point.¬† We can still get better here, still better there.
So we never really allowed ourselves to get satisfied with where we're at.  So we just kept pressing forward.  And I guess to answer your question, it's just a confidence level.  When you're confident as an offense and something bad happens, okay, put it aside and let's go.  Forget about it.

Q.  When you look at Stanford as a program, the exception that I heard from other coaches like five, six years ago, was it's a place that expects to win every four years, with the senior class.  To sort of run this sort of program, with the confidence there, what was your perception of Stanford as a program years ago and does it amaze you that this has happened there, was it thought of as a place it was hard to do?
COACH WARNER:  I guess you could say that.  I guess you could say that.  But they certainly have it going for quite a while, going back to when Harbaugh was there.  And now they've got it going real well.  You look at the players they have on the field and they've got great football players.  They've got great football players, from top to bottom.
They rotate guys in on defense, underclassmen.¬† I don't think this is a one‑year, two‑year, three‑year, four‑year deal for them.¬† I think they're a solid program, very solid program.

Q.¬† Jeremy coming out of the spring‑‑ you talked about this‑‑ looked like he was going to be the guy out there.¬† When did he look to you like someone (indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  You go all the way back to August camp and I guess he became a consistent running back.  I'm not sure you'd say he was the guy then or going to be dynamic or get to where he is right now, but he was very consistent in the spring.  I'm sorry, in the fall, throughout camp.
He wasn't making any mental mistakes.  He was running the ball.  He wasn't putting the ball on the ground.  Obviously had good ball skills, catching it.
So his consistency started, I thought, in August and then as he started breaking free at the end of some games, putting sort of that nail in the coffin at the end of football games, I think there his confidence grew because he was doing all the other things.
I think he was running hard and running low and getting tough yards and all that stuff.  And then when he started breaking away a little bit, utilizing his speed, had a chance to utilize his speed, that's where he just flourished, I thought.

Q.  You said he looked like a lot of Bell and Baker, is that something you said to him?
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, I think that's at every position, you try to learn from the guys who have excelled at the position previously.

Q.  At your place?
COACH WARNER:  Yes.

Q.¬† Do you see him as some sort of‑‑ kind of the break‑away thing with Baker, but he had some of the‑‑
COACH WARNER:¬† Yeah, I mean, he's sort of‑‑ he might fall in between, I guess.¬† He's got good speed and has decent size and strength.
But everybody's going to be their own back.  And I think Jeremy just brings Jeremy Langford to the table.  And we're happy he's been able to do what he's done obviously with the help of everybody else around him.

Q.¬† Physically, that was a big thing, right?¬† Said he gained 10 pounds.¬† Had to be able to drag him back‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, you guys remember, we were going into the season figuring, well, it's going to be a running back by committee.  And that was our intention, my intention right from the start, because we felt like we had some good players.
Riley Bullough was in the mix there obviously.  And Jeremy didn't want that.  To his credit, he wanted to be the guy.  At the beginning of the season, there's no way.
I mean, now if a guy gets hot, that's sort of common sense, if a guy gets hot, you're going to stay in there.  And, again, when we got into the Big Ten season, Jeremy Langford got hot.  And he was on the field.  And we feel very good about Nick Hill and Delton Williams right now.  But it's hard to take Jeremy Langford off the field right now with the explosiveness and the possibility he has every time he touches the ball.

Q.  Coach Dantonio spent a lot of time on the offense, at offense meetings.  As you guys grew during the season, did he kind of pull back out a bit?
COACH WARNER:  Probably a little bit.  But he's still in there.  He wants to know what's going on, obviously.  That's part of his job.  But, yeah, you could say he's probably not been in as much.  He's in a lot there.

Q.  If this had been next year, you guys might not be in this game; you might be in the Fiesta Bowl, whatever the semifinal is, might not be the Rose Bowl.  From being around the program, how important was it for the program to (indiscernible) to get to this game before the system changed, because it wasn't there, even if you had a great season?
COACH WARNER:  As I said over and over, the Rose Bowl is a goal.  And to be able to get here, and just probably as important is get here the way we did, not backing into it.  We won when we needed to win.  And we took any doubt away by going on the run the last four weeks.
We felt like we needed to win all those games, including the Big Ten championship game, rather than being sort of selected to get here.
So I think from a mental standpoint, that was very, very important to get in our way.  And now I think it gives our players that are going to be returning, and Blake made a statement in there about sort of passing it on to these younger guys, sort of the tradition.
But guys know what it takes now and know how it feels.¬† And I think it's huge.¬† And I think it also goes back to a couple of years ago.¬† I mean, last year was not what we wanted it to be.¬† But you look at the guys previous years where we had 11‑win football seasons, I think those guys are a part of where this program's come obviously and a part of us getting to a BCS game.

Q.¬† Was it important that it was this game and not a different BCS game, in other words, the Rose Bowl kind of‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, as long as it's not a National Championship game.  This is where we wanted to be.  Because this is where the Big Ten champion goes, and that's what we are and that's what we wanted to be.  We wanted to be Big Ten championship.

Q.  (Indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  He should be good.  We're expecting him to play.

Q.  Starting?
COACH WARNER:  I don't know that.

Q.¬† It looks like he's walking around ‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Come on, come on.  He's been practicing, let's put it that way.
       Q.  He's walking around, no limps.
COACH WARNER:  Yeah.

Q.¬† Everything else‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Should be good.

Q.¬† I hope so.¬† Blow‑by‑blow?
COACH WARNER:  That's why I'm not going to.

Q.  You guys ever talk about that?
COACH WARNER:  It was pretty obvious.

Q.  (Indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:¬† I call plays.¬† That's the way Coach D has it set up, when we went to this system back in February.¬† We're co‑coordinators.

Q.  First year?
COACH WARNER:¬† First year, yes.¬† Jim Bollman joined us in February I believe it was.¬† Co‑coordinators.¬† I call the plays.¬† But we take‑‑ our game plan is put together with input from everybody in our offensive staff.¬† Of course Coach Bollman has a large input in that.

Q.  Talking about Connor, the thing that jumps out about stat changes (indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  Good question.  I'm not sure I would have expected that going into the season, or really even when he was named the starter, for him to be as good statistically there with his touchdowns, interceptions.

Q.  (Indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:¬† Yeah, I think it's a testament to him.¬† I think it's testament also to his movement, because we went to him as quarterback because he can move well in the pocket, play action pass‑wise.¬† So we're probably doing a little bit more of that stuff with him than we had with previous quarterbacks.
And when you're moving your quarterback and he's moving because he's able to by scrambling or whatever, I think it cuts down on your possible receivers downfield.  Makes the decision process a little bit easier, I guess, would be my only reason there.
I'm very happy it's where it is.

Q.  Taking on what you were saying there, basically the Notre Dame game (indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  I think so.  I think maybe even before that again going into the Notre Dame game we sort of wanted him to be the guy.  And didn't allow him to finish that game.
And after that game we said, well, you know, we need to let him finish.  He's going to be our guy.  He's going to be our starter.  We need to let him finish.

Q.  How would you characterize his arm strength?
COACH WARNER:  I would say it's good.

Q.  What about does he run very much?
COACH WARNER:¬† We'd like him to run.¬† We'd like him to run more probably.¬† We have a few designed quarterback runs, not a lot.¬† So obviously he's going to carry it then.¬† But we like him‑‑ we'd like for him to scramble, lock the ball away and run when that situation arises.

Q.  Now you're playing against a really sound defense.  Statistically and everything else.  What are the things about the Stanford defense that impress you the most?
COACH WARNER:¬† I think what everybody says first off is this is going to be a physical game.¬† Sort of a throw‑back game that's won or lost in the trenches.¬† That's what I see from them defensively.¬† I think they do a lot of things defensively.¬† Gotta be ready for a lot of different fronts.
But one thing that pops out is when they hit, you see it.  You see guys getting moved back.  The linebackers are coming, they make the tackle, the running back's moving backwards.  When they're engaged with an offensive lineman or tight end, they move those guys backwards.
I think the physicality they bring is something that‑‑ we like to be a physical football team.¬† We've got to brace up for these guys, because they're going to bring the same thing.

Q.  Murphy has had a great year.  Will you double team him at times?
COACH WARNER:  You've always got to be aware of where he's at.  He's an outstanding player.  They move him around a lot.  So, yeah, you've got to be aware of where he's at, that he's not the only guy.
They've got a couple of linebackers inside, leading tacklers on the football team.  And obviously Murphy's a guy that has a lot of tackles for loss and sacks so forth.
So you've got to be aware of a lot of those guys up front.  And that's the challenge for us is because they move guys around so much and there's a multiple in what they do defensively that there's going to be a challenge.

Q.  Now, you probably have seen the eight defensive line, what they do (indiscernible) on the field at the same time.  Wisconsin did the same thing against you last year.
COACH WARNER:  Wisconsin, they've always been a team that's going to have an extra lineman and do some unbalanced stuff and so forth.

Q.¬† Talk about the turning point.¬† Do you remember your mood, your thoughts that game, because clearly Pryor had a step‑up performance, but is the guy in the box watching this unfold before you?¬† Do you remember (indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  Without a doubt.  I can still remember it.  A couple of plays stand out in my mind.  There was a lot of uncertainty going into that game, how good we could be playing a Big Ten football schedule.
But Connor sat in the pocket and threw a strike to Macgarrett Kings for a big touchdown.  First drive of the second half we marched down the field and hit a long pass to Bennie Fowler.  So those two plays were big, explosive plays that we've been lacking certainly last year and even to a certain extent the first couple of games of the season.
So it wasn't just Connor clicking and our offense clicking, it was how we were doing it by creating big plays and that's carried through most of the season.

Q.  How much of your season do you think has been won actually by the amount of live contact in scrimmage (indiscernible)?  You had such an inordinate spring with quarterbacks being live and scrimmaging so much.  Did it almost seem like a season was played between last season and this season, and how much do you think that really helped out?
COACH WARNER:  It's been a long ride.  And without a doubt it helps.  There's no way to duplicate how it is in the game situation for a quarterback.  For other positions maybe, but for a quarterback you just can't duplicate a live situation.  So it helped.
It still took us, again, four weeks or whatever into the season to decide on the guy.  That was the idea, was to decide on a guy in spring.

Q.  Did Connor get hit more in those four weeks of spring than he has this season by your defense?
COACH WARNER:  Our line's done a great job protecting him.  He's done a good job getting the ball out quick, which is important.
And I don't know if that's true or not.  But it's probably not an accurate statement.  I think he got hit quite a bit in spring.  They all did.

Q.  Stanford's offense this year, the opposing offenses came out and scored quickly, and then the Stanford team adjusted.  It's been a bit of (indiscernible).  Do you have an added emphasis on the first drive on this game before they can make their adjustments?  Because that's when they seem the most vulnerable.
COACH WARNER:  Not really.  We haven't talked about it at least.  And us, on the other hand, we're sort of the opposite.  We sort of grow as the game goes on offensively.
So I think it's important to start off quick, absolutely.  But I want to start off quick and go quick and finish quick, is ideally what we're looking for.

Q.  How important do you view the running game to neutralize Stanford's pass rush?
COACH WARNER:  Our running game?

Q.  Yes.
COACH WARNER:¬† Our run game is critical every week.¬† It sets up everything we do offensively.¬† Obviously play action pass.¬† So if we're able to run the football, I know from my standpoint, it becomes very‑‑ it becomes easier to call plays.¬† But if we're able to run the football, we feel like we're a complete offense because everything's going to follow suit.

Q.  (Indiscernible)?
COACH WARNER:  Coach Dantonio will address the injuries.  But Dan France seems like he's going to be fine to me.

Q.  Is it just the confidence of having so many starts now, what have you seen Connor from Connor mechanically, I guess, and how he's changed as a passer technically throughout the season?
COACH WARNER:¬† I think he's gotten to be more comfortable in the pocket.¬† I think the first few games I think he rushed things, which hurts his footwork, sitting in the pocket, when he tried to rush things and not‑‑ there's a fine line between going through your pass progression and getting the ball out quick or rushing it and throwing off your back foot, when I think early on he was probably doing that a little bit, throwing off his back foot rushing things.¬† Now it's a comfort deal.¬† A confidence in our offensive line, our protection.¬† I think it's a footwork deal with him now.

Q.  Is there anything in your mind how he handles the Big Ten championship game?  Some guys are saying (indiscernible) reminded him (indiscernible).
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, that's probably something that goes to guys in the huddle where I'm not.  I think his confidence level has grown to where Kirk is right now.  I think he feels very confident in his own ability and his confidence in his teammates.
And I know just in practice, and I'm sure it's the same way in the game, from where he started out in the season to where he is now, him stepping in the huddle and commanding the respect, the leadership, is night and day.  So I'm sure that's a big part of where he's grown.

Q.¬† Has he made fewer mistakes than you thought he would for a first‑year quarterback, only five interceptions, a couple fumbles?¬† Most first‑year guys ‑‑
COACH WARNER:  Yeah, he has.  And obviously he got away with some things like every quarterback does.  Sometimes you get away with things.  So, yes, to answer your question, I think he's done a great job of limiting his mistakes, and obviously that's resulted in us being able to control the football and control the time of possession, and it's made us what we are. 

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports




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