Oct. 18, 2011
COACH KILL: I appreciate everybody coming today, and I guess at this time we've had an off week, and practice on Sunday, and just working through preparation for University of Nebraska and working trying to get better, recruiting and doing a lot of things. We've been busy, and looking forward to continuing to take one day at a time and take a step forward.
That's where we're at, and I'll just open it up for any questions.
Q. What did you get out of the bye week? Was it a good week for you?
COACH KILL: Well, I think for where we're at and what we're doing, it gave MarQueis certainly some time to get repetitions and get back in the flow of things. I think some of our older players who are giving a whole lot trying to get better, I think mentally, through the tough times it wears on you, and I think it gave them the chance to get their feet back underneath them and mentally get where they needed to be. And then it gave us a lot of time to take younger players who haven't played, that fundamentally and are struggling right now that have had to be put in the fire to get a lot better and get repetitions. We didn't go, like, for drudgery; we can't do that right now.
So we spent good, crisp practices, working good on good, and it worked out pretty well. I think the kids enjoyed the process of that, and I think we got better in some areas and got to see a lot of young people. So I think it's beneficial.
Q. Any young kids that stepped forward that might play a little bit more that we haven't seen?
COACH KILL: Oh, I don't think anybody has stepped forward. I think that I could take a whole groupful of them from the Olsons, Lenkiewiczes, all those young offensive linemen, they're all playing, they're all young. I mean, everybody is young up in the offensive line except for two kids right now. Everybody is young on offense except for one receiver, and right now we're down to two tailbacks.
I mean, you're as young as you can get right there. And then on the defensive line and linebackers and secondary, just learning coverages, making sure they understand leverage and working towards just getting better.
Q. When you look at Nebraska's offense they put up a lot of points. Where do you kind of have to focus your attention to keep them under wraps?
COACH KILL: I think nobody has been able to just keep them under wraps. You know, they basically have gone offensively what Coach Osborne stood for for years and running option football any way you want to slice it. They're running the belly and the belly option and zone option and the inside -- what I call inside read, veer out of the pistol and throwing the quick game, and they've done an outstanding job at developing their quarterback. He's gotten better at throwing each week, and he's an outstanding athlete. Great, hard-nosed tough tailback. That's what Nebraska has been, and you know, they've gone back to -- I don't think there's any question about that offensively. I think they're 11th in the country in rushing the football. I mean, that's who they are. And then defensively. Got a great return man. There's some history kind of evolved back into the offensive structure of what they're doing.
I think their team represents their head coach. Their head coach is a hard-nosed, tough guy, and I think his football team represents what he stands for.
Q. Kind of unique because when you look at the game today, it seems like it is getting more into pass heavy, more into spread them out and see a team go back to their roots.
COACH KILL: Oh, I think football recycles if you look at it. It just goes in one circle. When I was coaching back when Coach Osborne was there, we were running the split back veer. And I was traveling the country with Frank Solich on the Glazier Clinic Tour. He was I option and we were split back veer, and Tubby was -- Raymond there at Delaware was wing T option. We all used to travel. We used to come to Minnesota and speak to the high school coaches on split back veer. And then that revolved and all of a sudden everybody was throwing the football.
Sometimes it's good to be different, and you know, sometimes it's good to get an edge to be different, and so I think Nebraska has just gone back to that -- that's their roots. That's when they won National Championships. That's when they were successful, and I think probably Bow and Tom and the group said, hey, this is who we're going to be, and this is what they're doing.
Q. Do you think they're a big fit for the Big Ten?
COACH KILL: Yeah, I think it's been -- for the competitive nature, it makes it tough on everybody, but I think it's good. I mean, I don't think there's any question about that. Nebraska, it's important there, their people following it. You'll see that here. They're a rich-tradition state of college football.
I think it's good. It makes it very competitive. It makes it hard, but it makes the Big Ten better. I don't think there's any question.
And physically the way they play, you know, you took -- Coach Alvarez was on that staff at one time and he said he wanted to be at the University of Nebraska and Big Ten and you look at how they run the football -- they do it differently, but it's physical football.
Q. Do you think the bye week came at a good time? What are your thoughts?
COACH KILL: You know, for our situation it probably came at a good time because of some of the things with the kids and where we're at mentally, so to speak. But I've never been one that got those -- those bye weeks sometimes it's hard to get timing and everything else back. But if you have one, I guess you'd say it came at a good time. And we got a lot of work done, that's for sure. So through not only working with the kids we had and recruiting and et cetera, I think it was good probably in the situation we were in for everyone. But now you get back in the routine and go from there.
Q. You said you're down two tailbacks? Cobb and Wright are both hurt?
COACH KILL: Yes, right now. They're real questionable, so we'll see. But I mean, I can't -- I've always told the truth, and right now I've been told they certainly won't practice today, and both of them have got hamstrings. So we'll just have to see what that brings across the table.
Q. Nebraska's defense is a little vulnerable to the rush, but does that help you a whole lot when you only have two tailbacks?
COACH KILL: Well, they play pretty good people. They played Wisconsin and Wisconsin is pretty good at rushing the football. You've got to take that hand in hand with who you play and so forth. They're good on defense. Don't let anybody kid you. That's Bow's bread and butter, and that's why that guy is at the University of Nebraska. They're good on defense, don't let that fool you.
Q. Is Edwards back to running back?
COACH KILL: No.
Q. Is there a running back that will step up and be the third or fourth?
COACH KILL: No, right now that's all we've got. Gatling is a young man that's a walk-on player and if he has to step in and play, I'm sure he'll do good. We'll go with that. Lamonte could take some reps, we'll see how the week goes, and if he has -- if we have to play him both ways, we will.
Q. Has Kirkwood's hamstring been able to hold up?
COACH KILL: To this point, yes. He's played well and so forth and had a good week of practice and those kind of things. But again, we're given what we have, and we'll work through it. We'll certainly give Lamonte some reps after practice just to make sure that we have some timing and so forth worked out. But hopefully we don't have to go that far, and those other two youngsters will hold up, and we'll go from there.
Q. You had said that Troy was going to undergo an X-ray on his wrist.
COACH KILL: He's supposed to this afternoon.
Q. You've got Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois, just seems like it couldn't get much tougher for you. How do you keep your players up facing that sort of opposition?
COACH KILL: I just shut everything else out, and all I can do is worry about the kids, and we just try to get better. That's all you can do. You look at -- and again, every week you look at the border programs, they're good programs, Iowa and Kirk Ferentz. I'm not going to tell you conversations I have with people, but coaches are about the only friends we've got. We compete against each other and then we get fired. But I think we all respect each other. He was 1-10 his first year at Iowa. Barry Alvarez, I can't tell you what his record was, and I'm not saying we're going to be that or what's going to happen, but I think any time you go into those things it's a struggle, and it's hard and so forth.
But the schedule is lined out the way it is and we've had an opportunity to get a couple wins that we didn't get, and we're where we're at, and we just have to worry about improving the program and keep working within it, the outskirts of people, the media and whatever. They might say, we don't see any improvement. Sometimes it's hard to see. But we as a coaching staff have to look for all the little things that we are doing, and we've got some young players that will get better through this. We've just got to mentally get them to hang in there and keep pushing forward, and that's our job. That's all we can do.
Q. So far, they're hanging in there?
COACH KILL: Well, so far, but we have six games to play. I can't predict the future. The hard thing about it is through the next six games you don't know what's going to happen. I mean, there could be -- football can change in a heartbeat. If you lose your quarterback, we play and somebody loses their quarterback, that changes the whole scheme. I mean, Michigan lost their quarterback there in the game, and you lose one -- you lose that position off any football team, let me tell you, Wisconsin can't afford to lose that guy.
I mean, I'm just telling you, that's how Nebraska, Minnesota -- when we've had quarterback injuries or whatever, Nebraska's quarterback -- you know, look at Ohio State, they threw the ball four times and won, beat Illinois and threw it four times. So I mean, there's a lot of things that can go into these next six weeks that nobody can predict. So all we can do is take it one day at a time and get better.
Is it mentally tough on kids and coaches? Sure, it is but at the end of the day you'll know who's really mentally tough and we may need that. At the end of the season I want to be able to say, this guy is mentally tough, this one can play in the Big Ten, this one is not mentally tough, this one ain't going to make it. I want to find out, and sometimes you have to find lessons out the hard way. But we'll find a lot of good things out, too. We'll find out some kids that were a lot tougher than we thought they were in some areas. We've found some of that out to this point.
Q. How are you preparing your players for the Nebraska fans coming in and possibly not having home-field advantage?
COACH KILL: I'm not going to talk about it (with the team). That's something I can't control. I don't worry about it. Only thing I can control is if we know who to block, what to do and those kind of things. I can't control -- I mean, that's not going to change our preparation or anything of that nature. I mean, that's part of college football wherever you play. We play in front of 110,000, didn't do very well at Michigan. I've been at other programs at played in front of 110,000 and won. It's one of those things. If you're a focused football player and you're really good football player, good coach, you never hear anything anyway, okay.
The only problem you run into, honestly, right now in college football, which is difficult, which you'd love to have this happen on Saturday, is Nebraska goes to the line of scrimmage and Martinez calls every play from the line of scrimmage. I mean, I'm not going to tell you -- I can tell you what he's going to do today, and he's going to look over his certain keys and they're going to run the ball one way or the other because of what they see. If you've got tons of crowd noise on every single snap, he can't make those checks, and that makes it tough. That's when it comes into a factor.
If Nebraska fans get that loud, that's a problem. But that's when home field -- hopefully we won't let that happen, and hopefully we can do something positive from our standpoint, which we control on our football team, to get our crowd involved in it. We need to give them something positive that we can create that atmosphere every snap. That's the things that's happened at those places in college football right now that you go to places where you can't -- every single snap the football comes underneath the center, he can't make a check. That's why everybody right now is encouraged, you go see all the no-huddle offense stuff, and you go to Baton Rouge and play at LSU, you can't do all that stuff. That's why you see some of those Southeast Conference schools, you don't see Alabama in the spread offense. They're huddling up, and it's because of crowd noise. A lot of that has to do with it, because you can't hear for check purposes. I mean, that's where it is a factor, there's no question about that part of it.
Q. Is he a little bit like Robinson from Michigan?
COACH KILL: Different. Martinez is more of a guy that is -- he'll run the football and he'll get the flow of the defense going and he'll plant that foot and go vertical. He's a lot like the kid, Rob Reeves, even though Rob doesn't look like him, he's a pretty good athlete that's coaching here, that played for me. We run a lot of option football and he'll stretch the defense and plant his foot and then he's got great speed. Robinson is going to shake two or three times, sidestep you. Robinson is like Barry Sanders playing quarterback. Martinez is more of a slasher, and you do not want him to get to the edge, because he can really run.
And then the other problem you have with it is they've got the tailback, who is a heck of a football player. I think everybody talks -- Martinez is a good football player, no question, but that tailback is a good football player. He makes a lot of plays, they've got a great runner. You don't want to kick it to him. Shoot, he's taking it to the house against Fresno and was the difference in this game against Wisconsin. They started on the 40-yard line about every time, 40, 45-yard line. Shoot, Wisconsin kicked it out of bounds one time and let them start on the 40-yard line.
They've got good players, and everybody -- you can look right down the barrel. But that's a great challenge for us and great challenge for our coaches, and look forward to it.
Q. Offensively they're a big-play team. What do you do defensively to try to control that?
COACH KILL: Well, you've got to get a lot of people around the ball, and that's the tough thing about option football. You've got somebody on the dive and somebody on the quarterback and somebody on the pitch, and you get somebody that makes one mistake or they put you in one-on-one situations and the guy sidesteps you, it's over. That's the beauty of option football and what they do. It's an equalizer.
Believe me, I'm a guy that we've ran that for a lot of years through my career and gave a lot of clinics on it. The only way to stop option football is to play 12 people. You've got to get the extra guy for support. And that's the problem. They put an extra guy over here, they'll run the opposite way, so they're four long. You've got to balance up, and they make you balance up. When they balance you up, you're going to be one-on-one, so then you'd better be able to run and chase the football. That's what they do.
Q. You referenced your young guys a lot. One guy we've seen a lot of is Marcus Jones. Talk about what you've seen on the field so far.
COACH KILL: Well, Marcus came in at semester last year from North Carolina and we recruited him when we went to Northern Illinois, then he didn't want to go that route. Marcus is -- I think he's on our board in there academically. I don't want to say something that's out of line because every time I say something -- he's 3.5 or above, so very smart young man, great parents, and a young man we felt like could help us in returns. He's not big in stature. He played corner in high school, was a heck of a corner, he's played some receiver, we've kind of made him a slot receiver, and we needed a special teams guy, and he's done some of that as a true freshman. And has also done some good things as a receiver but still learning.
But he's done a nice job, and he's learning, like I said. He'll be the first one -- he's a competitive kid, you know, and loves the game. We've been pleased with Marcus' progress, we really have. And he's also gotten bigger. I think he's a buck 75, buck 80, and runs pretty well.
Q. Talk about Royston's play to this point. I know he leads the team in tackles.
COACH KILL: Well, I think most teams you've seen in the run, and you'll see in football, you watch the NFL, Polamalu, people can stop the run, safeties, are going to have to make plays. A lot of them are leading tacklers in the league, and in college football right now I think that's the hardest position to recruit because that guy has got to be able to play one-on-one coverage, but he also has to be the extra run support guy in the box, and those guys are not easy to find. They've got to have loose hips and so forth. But I think he's getting better as we go.
Again, he hadn't played for a year, and then as he says, "I've been knocking off the rust." I think the next six games are real important for him, and the better he gets, the more it helps us.
But I think for what he's gone through and what he's been through, I think the off week will help him. He's been playing through some banged up legs himself. We talked about the off week helping MarQueis. I think it'll help him, as well.
Q. Is Royston's experience important ...
COACH KILL: Absolutely it's important. I've said that all along. Six years in the program, playing college football, been at Wisconsin, been here, understands things, understands -- I think he's got a good perception of what we need to go do and where we're going and so forth. Been very good to work with, and certainly good for the young players since some of them have had to play and do some things for us.
Q. Talk about MarQueis Gray, his progress as a quarterback, where he is now.
COACH KILL: Well, I think we'll know over the next five or six games because with the injury status that he had, in USC he cramped up, there's been those things that set that progress back because when you don't play, it's hard to get better. So I think these next six games are real critical. I think he was making huge progress, and then the injury. So, therefore, that sets you back when you don't practice. He basically was not able to take very many reps until about the Thursday before we played Purdue. I know he's working hard at it, and he's learning as fast as he can, but again, we put him in a difficult situation. If we had a veteran offensive line and a veteran receiving corps and he was able to just run the ball better, his progress would be better, you know, and so it maxes.
But those two kids have been put under some very difficult situations for young quarterbacks. They're with a young football team, and they're young. So it's not an easy fit for them. I think they're working their butt off, and it's a freshman year for both of them right now.
Q. Has the offensive line been disappointing or is it just because of lack of health?
COACH KILL: Well, I think (Ed) Olson has been hurt and played some. Jimmy Gjere has had a concussion, and we lost a young man before he ever got to the program with a concussion, and then there's just been injuries. So you move people around, so there's not a lot of continuity there. But through that, the positive thing is we've been able to see some other kids step in there and do some things, and you don't complain about it. I can't say we're disappointed. I think we've got guys that have never played, and they're lining up against some good people.
The only way you get better is play, and mentally if they can hang in there, those kids will be better and better, and hopefully we're trying to do some things for them to make it easier for them where they don't have to think a lot and process, but it's a situation where we've just got to keep working to get them better.
Some of them are so young, they're not -- they're not where they're going to be two years from now. I mean, we've got some freshmen that are being red-shirted right now that have put on 20, 25 pounds since they've been here, and we're not playing some of them right yet. You're going to do that as freshmen come. Anybody that's played in the offensive line, you may come in at 265, 270, and end up playing at 310. You're usually going to put on 20, 25 pounds of good weight. Some of those kids haven't even -- I give them a hard time, you don't even have any hair on your face yet and you're playing college football. When you get a little hair on your face, you'll be ready to go. But in the meantime they have to play anyway. But they've worked hard and that's all you ask them to do, and we're going to keep pushing to get better.
Practice we've put our ones against ones to get faster, and twos against twos to speed up the process a little bit. We did a lot of that Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
Q. About Tommy Olson
COACH KILL: Well, his first game, he did okay. It's like anything, he played like a freshman, but he did -- I mean, I didn't go, I'll tell you what -- the kid is going to be a good player. He pulled around there on power and got the backer and did some good things. There's some things in there, sat in a pass set and a guy got by him and hasn't had experience, but he'll learn from it. He's a conscientious kid. I'm sure he'll get better from it.
Like I said, they're learning the hard way, and that's why you can't sit there and scream and yell and beat them up. You've got to be a little bit patient. They're learning the curve the hard way, but two years down the road, some of them have 16, 17 starts under their belt and they won't even be a junior. That's the positive thing, as long as we can keep them healthy and keep them getting better.