Coach, could you talk about how Patrick Kugler did in his first start?
“Yeah, he did outstanding. He graded out the highest of all Offensive linemen. Just very effective. Really, really happy with the way the offensive line played. Pat played his best game.”
In addition to the offensive line, what were the things on the offensive side of the ball that jumped out on video that you liked?
“The run game. Liked our pass protections. Liked in the passing game we hit big plays. We executed at times very well. The play action was extremely good. And we moved the Ball. We were able to move and score points. Feel like we turned some of those red-zone field goals into touchdowns and you score 40, 45+ points.”
Obviously every game plays out differently but with the way Isaac succeeded, do you try to get the ball in his hands more going forward?
“Well, we were. I mean, that was the plan going into the game as well. He had a terrific game. He’s going to be our offensive player of the week. Really got us going on some off-schedule third-down runs. He played brilliantly and really happy for him.
“Chris [Evans] as well had good runs and so did Karan Higdon. We really felt good about those three backs in the ball game and we continue to feel good about them coming out of the ball game and going forward.”
Chase said on Saturday that forced fumble for him was a culmination of a lifetime of work. What’s impressed you most about him and his progression there after bouncing around from position to position earlier in his career?
“The motor. His energy, his effort…fast. It’s the speed at which he does it and he’s a strong player. Speed and strength, those are huge in football, as a team and as an individual player. Combine that with his get-up-and-go, his motor, his gung-ho attitude: all is a great combination for a football player.”
[After THE JUMP: running off-schedule, the starting QB, and offensive line…hype?]
The fourth-and-one play on the first drive of the second half: what all went into that? You had to think ahead of time to make that decision and to keep them off balance and the success of that play.
“It’s a play we worked on a lot in camp.Think we all as a team knew what play we were going to call. Just decided we were going for it and Coach Drevno, Pep, all of us, we agreed on the play, get it sent in, our players were ready for it and they executed it.
“Right as the ball’s getting snapped I get pessimistic: What are we doing this for, why are we doing this, this is dumb! Second-guessing myself and then boom, he cracks it for the first down and then a nice gain. Good job. Good job.”
The element of surprise, how did that factor in?
“Yeah, it was jump-the-ball type of play, a rush-the-ball type of play. It really wasn’t a surprise to us, our coaches, or our players. It’s something that we really worked hard on and worked a lot for that particular situation.”
Going back to Ty, where have you seen him improve the most?
“Ty has been a very elusive runner. He’s been outstanding. I think his pass protection has improved greatly. He’s always been a good catcher of the ball. His instincts are good and improving.”
Nolan Ulizio made the start at right tackle. What did he do to earn the starting job and how would you evaluate his performance?
“He was—he competed and won the job against, it was Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Jon Runyan all in competition for that job and he was just a little bit better.”
How would you evaluate him?
“I thought he did good. There’s some things to improve on. I will say that there were some mistakes, physical mistakes where he got beat and I would say for our offense in general there were some good things and a lot for us to coach. We’re going to attack that today.”
You had a lot of success on third-and-long plays normally which would be used passing by running. How much does that help keep a defense off balance?
“Yeah, I refer to it as an off-schedule, third-and-10, third-and-nine type of running play. There’s a bit of element of surprise there, no question. If you don’t get it, some of the fans boo: why did you run if on third-and-nine, third-and-10? The plan is you’re trying to make the right calls at the right time and sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re not.”
Do you expect to be able to use John O’Korn maybe a series or two in games going forward and along those lines, what did you like about how Wilton handled the whole situation?
“Well, there was a lot of good things and things to coach, things to improve. If you can’t handle that type of situation when something goes bad, it’s the wrong position to be playing, so I thought he did very well. Sometimes that breaks a guy. Sometimes they can bounce back from it the next game. Sometimes they can bounce back from it the same game and sometimes they can’t. Definitely if you can’t, if it affects you to the point where you can’t go execute or you’re unwilling therefore to go take any chances or risks after that, that’s the sign that you can’t handle that real well. He kept firing after that. It was very reminiscent—to make a golf, a sports analogy, a golfer that hits one in the water and then takes another one out of his pocket, drops it, and shooting from the flag again. I thought he showed that.”
And do you foresee using John in games going down the line?
“Yeah, Wilton’s going to be the starter and John, very much believe in John and John will be used again. Played again. ‘Used again’ seems kind of…”
With the offensive line, we talked in the offseason about how they’re maybe more athletic. Did you like the athleticism up front? Did you see some of that in terms of not falling off blocks but in terms of their ability, did you sense the added athleticism up front?
“Yes, I thought that showed. Very happy with Mike Onwenu. You go into it and you think, ‘Okay, Mason Cole’s our best offensive lineman and then Ben Bredeson’s right there, it’s close.’ But Mike Onwenu or Ben Bredeson, who’s better, you know? They’re both ascending and Mike’s ascended real fast. Pat Kugler had the game he did and Nolan Ulizio; we’re better. It shows. More athletic, to your point.
“There were times consistently during the season last year where we were getting beat and there was free runners on the quarterback. There was a lot less of that in this ball game against a very good defensive line and linebacker corps where they’re fast. They’re a very penetrating, physical front and very athletic and long. We were getting it done. We were moving our feet and it wasn’t perfect but it’s a good place to be and glad we’re at that level. You don’t know where you’re going to be exactly until you play your first game and okay, we’re at a good level. We can improve from here.
“Just as a team playing the first game, want this to be a season of increases for our football team, for our offense, our defense, our special teams. We’re very focused on that right now and things to coach and things you can’t wait to go coach and address. Things as a coach you go, unggh, should have done a better job making sure that that was addressed.
“So on an interception, the receivers, the tight ends, the backs, the skill players, quarterback, the line, everybody has to go make that tackle and we were atrocious. Just standing there and watching, and that starts with me. It starts with the coaches, and it will get addressed. Chomping at the bit to go address that.”
Will you make the tackle next time yourself?
There were some guys Saturday night who said they were motivated or fired up about some perceived slights, whether it was the Florida players talking in the summer of people talking about the team being too young to have success. I know you addressed that a little bit Saturday night but do you like the salty, prove-em-wrong identity that those guys have taken this season?
“Oh sure. I think everybody does to an extent. Experience has taught when it’s an opposing coach predicting they’ll kick your butt or it’s opposing players who say they’re gonna do this or beat you or that kind of talk, it goes in the category of “easier said than done.” Always look at it that way.”
SID calls my name.
“You give it its due.”
“Um, no. I would say it’s really not something that’s been any different than any other offseason over the years. It’s a season of increases, and daily. Better today than yesterday, better tomorrow than today. That’s what our focus is. So simple that it just might work. We hang on that principle of improvement will lead to success, which will lead to championships theory.”
SID says we have time for three more questions and calls my name.
“It’s irrelevant whether it’s freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. We all should be doing that. Coaches. That’s our plan.”
MGoQuestion: How do you feel your tight ends blocked in the run game and who stood out in that aspect?
“Um…well, another area with improvement needed but talented guys. Very athletic and did really good things. Sean McKeon blocked really well. Tyrone Wheatley really had his moments. Nick Eubanks showed what he can do.
“Zach Gentry has come so far as a blocker. You talk about what’s getting better mean, what does improvement mean; just something you throw out there and say no, look at Zach Gentry and the improvement he has made as a blocker. He is gonna be—he has the license the ability to be just phenomenal. All five of our tight ends I feel like are really talented and improving and didn’t pitch the perfect game but played well. Played well and they’re ascending.”
You mentioned Ty was your offensive player of the week. From a defensive performance like you had, was it tough to pick your defensive player of the week and who was that?
“No. Devin Bush Jr. Thought he stood out. He had two sacks, contributed, ran sideline to sideline, made the tackles. But I’m not saying that—it was hard, it was hard. The defense, the way they played, it was the best since I’ve been here coaching that I’ve seen our defense run to the football and holes open up and close. Pursuit, nobody on the ground, everybody getting up, running, making the tackle; what we need to do when there’s an interception. We need to watch that tape and put it on.
“And to get the three fumbles, I mean, we had six last year. We had three in this game. Diving on their mistakes and pursuing and because you’re running to the ball at all times it makes that possible. You’re there in position to dive onto somebody’s mistakes when they occur.
“Don Brown had an excellent gameplan. Changed it up, changed up the defense schematically. Worked one style of offense with the first quarterback that was in there then went to Malik Zaire, changed to more read-option and adapted the scheme. Held up and adapted. Our players knew it. They knew what they had in one and then they knew what they had with the next and they were on it, so yeah, very happy. We were a confident unit, really well coached defensive unit. We thought we were gonna be good and we were good. We’ll continue to build but I was really pleased with the way they ran to the ball.
“And I know I read some of the sacks, six sacks by five different people; really Rashan Gary should have a half sack. If somebody makes a sack all by themselves then that’s a sack; if there’s two guys making a sack then it’s a half sack for each. Rashan was in on one of those as well and McCray got one. That’s a sack. It’s him. The other guy’s kind of falling off and he comes around and makes a sack.
“Just running to the ball and getting those fumbles is key because we’re in so much man-to-man coverage that you’re not always seeing the ball come out of the quarterback’s hand and it’s harder to get the interceptions but to hop in on those mistakes and those fumbles was really critical. I felt the way our defense ran to the ball was the best I’ve seen.”
Did it look like a faster defense to you?
“It did, yeah. I mean, as much pursuit, how fast the holes close up, yeah. It looked fast. Fast, faster, I don’t know, sounds like a comparison, but it looked fast.”
Brandon Watson and David Long left the game. Any updates on their statuses?
“Uh…not yet, no. They’re still going through the treatment. I think have a pretty good idea that we’re in really good shape coming out of this game. I think both those youngsters will be fine. Kind of minor couple-day kind of things. But we’ll see for sure.”
I was just going to ask about Quinn Nordin. He looks effortless on a lot of these. I know he missed on one but he looks effortless. Is he that kind of kicker? It looks like he doesn’t have to do much [for distance].
“He’s got a great leg, there’s no question about it, and worked very hard. You’ve got to give Cameron Cheeseman a lot of credit, Garrett Moores a lot of credit, that whole battery. It’s a battery. It’s like a…it’s a battery. And two out of the three gotta go really well to make a kick. One out of the three go well and you’re not going to make the kick, so that team effort was good. He’s got the leg. I think he responds to the moment and to the pressure. I think he’s got that wonderful quality about him. The short one he missed, that was a technique issue. He started too soon. That’s a bit of a theme that we have. Offensively and in the special teams, it wasn’t perfect. We didn’t pitch the perfect game there. Definitely things to coach and see if we can improve.”
SID: Alright, thanks, Coach.
“But! That was a Michigan record. Two 50+ field goals in one game. How long they been plating football at Michigan? Hundred…”
“That’s a lot of years. That’s a lot of years.
Do you like the Wild Thing haircut?
“Oh, that haircut? [laughs] He’s got nice hair so he’s got some options.”