Nov. 15, 2011
The following is a transcript of University of Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill's weekly press conference with the Twin Cities media from Nov. 15, 2011:
COACH KILL: Good afternoon, everybody. Our staff, we're all preparing for Northwestern, looking forward to the challenge, getting back out on the field. Looking forward to practice today, taking a step forward and keep moving forward. That's where we're at.
I'll take any questions at this time.
Q. How is MarQueis' health?
COACH KILL: I'll know more today. I felt watching the film from Saturday, there's no question in the first quarter he was very tentative in what he was doing. He took a big shot to the back. I think it certainly disrupted his preparation through the week. It hurt us in the fact he was able to practice but not full speed. I think the timing of those situations when you haven't played, it's not like Aaron Rodgers where you've played quarterback for a long, long time. He's still learning. Any missed opportunities and reps is important.
He took reps during the week, but he didn't take as many as he'd been taking. That threw the timing off a little bit.
As the game progressed, he loosened up, ran pretty hard actually. But I think it was a deal he had to get a feel how far he could push himself.
I was pleased with the toughness he showed. He's playing with a very difficult situation. Anytime you get hit in the back like he has, that's a tough injury. It's like a dang hip pointer. It sometimes lingers. So we hope that he'll move around fairly good today. We'll see.
Q. How about mentally, with everything going on in his life?
COACH KILL: I think that MarQueis, that didn't affect his game. He was back at the motel by 9:00. He certainly has a lot on his plate. If you knew MarQueis, and again I've known him for my short time here, he handles things pretty well and he's a pretty mature young man. Does he have a lot on his plate? Yes, he does. To this point he's dealt with it very good.
That was not a factor in the football game.
Q. Are you concerned about that going forward?
COACH KILL: I've coached for 29 years. I don't have enough time to tell you how many kids, situations, things I deal with from a day-to-day basis. That's just part of coaching.
Q. What impresses you most about Northwestern?
COACH KILL: I think what Coach (Fitzgerald) has done, I know Coach very well, he's done a great job. He knows exactly what he needs to do at Northwestern. He played there. He knows the culture. He knows what he needs to recruit, who he needs to recruit, and he's put a system to it. He does an outstanding job of recruiting players to Northwestern that understand what he expects.
When I was at Northwestern, I went over and spent time with him. I know coach quite well. I think the team is a reflection of him. He's a tough guy, a Northwestern guy. I just think it's a really good fit for Northwestern.
I think he's done a good job identifying who they're going to be and how they're going to do it. He's done an excellent job. Same thing we have to do here.
Q. Question about Kill's relationship with Fitzgerald
COACH KILL: Oh, yeah. I knew him. Plus the guy that hired me at Northern Illinois, Jim Phillips, hired me, was there a month and a half, started contact with Jim. Just knowing Coach Fitzgerald through coaching, I went over and visited with him. You're always sharing ideas and so forth.
Does a great job, no question about that.
Q. What do they (Northwestern) do in their passing game that makes them so effective?
COACH KILL: I think they understand what they're trying to do. It starts with the quarterback. We have a lot of senior quarterbacks in the Big Ten. They're all good, too. I'm glad they're all seniors, too, and glad he's a senior. Throws for a high percentage, makes good decisions. They always seem to find quarterbacks there at Northwestern. He can beat you with his feet. He throws the short passing game, very precise routes, do a good job of getting open.
I think it's a part of what they do and part of their package. But very disciplined offensive football team. No-huddle. They take what they give you. They're just good at what they do.
Q. Can you compare Dan Persa with some of the other quarterbacks you've faced the past few weeks?
COACH KILL: Persa is a different guy. They're all in a different system. You go from playing Wisconsin, which is a power football team, a play-action passing team, to a spread, wide-open team that goes by wide. So it's a totally different package to take on as a defensive unit.
Q. What have you seen from their backup quarterback?
COACH KILL: He's a very, very good athlete. They can play him at quarterback. He can throw it. He does a very good job at receiving. Again, they have very smart kids. They're able to do some things. They move them around. They do a good job of coaching the type of youngsters they have in the program. They don't beat theirselves.
Q. It's been tough for McKnight to get going. What are your impressions of him?
COACH KILL: Da'Jon has made some plays. He's playing with an injury right now so that has slowed him down a little bit. He dislocated his kneecap way back in the spring. He's battled through that all year. It's not been easy for him.
He's done a good job. Certainly has come on, again, as the quarterback as gotten better. He's gotten better. That's all a part of going through it.
He had Adam Weber for three years, however long he played. Going through a new quarterback, that's always a difficult situation for a receiver.
Q. Can you discuss the decision to fake the field goal last week?
COACH KILL: Well, I think in your preparation each week, you work hard for different situations. If you follow my background, we're going to try to take advantage of opportunities that are given. When you're struggling in a program, you're trying to make a play, we needed to make a play to change momentum. I thought at that time a field goal would be okay, but we needed something bigger than that. We prepared all week and throughout the season we've worked on that fake for several weeks. We went into the game feeling like they brought a lot of pressure from one side. If we had the ball in the right hatch, we wouldn't have run it. We had the ball in the middle of the field, we thought they were going to bring pressure, which they did. The guy that came off seen it, he took a couple bad steps, reacted to it, then Jordan made a nice play.
It's just something from what we're doing in there before I came in here. Watching film, breaking the team down, trying to take any advantage you can of making a play. It's about making plays. We hadn't made a lot of plays to that point. We left some of them on the field. We had a chance on the first play we had offensively. We had Eric Lair wide open. Ran a bootleg pass, had a guy wide open. Under-threw it, got picked off. We had a chance to make some plays and didn't make them.
Q. Is there any reason why you haven't tried putting MarQueis at receiver?
COACH KILL: We had MarQueis at receiver. We did with the two-point play the week before.
Again, right now with what we're doing, we're doing everything we can to be successful. Put MarQueis out there, get him knocked out, half dozen of one... We're utilizing every personnel grouping, every defensive grouping we can use to try to be successful right now and feel comfortable with it.
Our deal comes down to execution. We have to execute better in certain situations. We're leaving a lot of plays on the field that we're not just executing. The previous two and a half weeks offensively we'd executed pretty well. Going into the Wisconsin game, felt like we had a good game plan. We just didn't execute it. Part of that is that Wisconsin is a very good football team. They're what we'd like to be in the fact that they had the ball all the time and your offense sits over there. Then if you go three-and-out, they have it again for a large period of time. Before long you're down 14 points, then you kind of panic a little bit because you never know if you're going to get the ball back. That's what makes them a good football team.
Offensively they make their offense better. When their defense gets out there and they do play well, it's a tough combination to handle. That's why they're a pretty good football team.
Q. What is your evaluation of Shortell at this point in the season?
COACH KILL: He's done a good job. Again, he's going to be a good player. It was a situation where MarQueis was struggling with his injury. Max was ready to play, well-prepared to play. He's a young guy, learning. He'll keep progressing in the program.
Very pleased with the progress. Actually he's probably farther along than what I thought he would be when he came here. He's worked hard.
Q. The defense got to Wilson a couple times early. Did Wisconsin do something different to protect him the rest of the game?
COACH KILL: I think what they did, if you look at the deal, they were such a balanced attack running and throwing the ball. Anytime you do that, you play the run, then they throw the play-action, they just kept soft bounce. We had Gary Tinsley in certain situations find him, got him out of coverage a couple of times so he wouldn't step out of the pocket, run all over the place. We did a good job of that early. Like anything else, they adjusted, kept an extra guy in, threw the play-action pass to get the safeties down on the run, then they're one-on-one with the corners. Their matchups are pretty good.
Just like anything, you pick your poison. You stop the run, you're going to get one-on-one out there. That's what makes them such a good team. They're averaging 47 points a game. They're a good offensive football unit.
Q. What would you like to see from a final two weeks? Does it have to be wins to be a success?
COACH KILL: I think we just got to continue to move forward. Certainly you'd like to win. That's why you put on the uniform. But I'd like to see us move forward and keep working hard. We have a lot of things we need to improve on. I'd like to see us get offensive line-wise, even though we had so many injuries, it was kind of amazing that our kids were really playing well. I thought we struggled in that area on Saturday. That may have had to do with Wisconsin. I'm not going to take any credit away from them, but we didn't play as clean. We made some mental errors that you just can't. You go, Gosh darn, what's going on here?
I'd like to get back to consistent play with the offensive line. That's where it all starts. If we can do that, we'll improve. Then we've got to make some plays. We made some plays in the previous two weeks. Got to throw and catch the ball, make some critical plays. Defensively we got to continue to play hard and, again, cut down on the mental errors we had. We had a few more mental errors than we'd like. Just continue to progress as a unit and also that gives us an opportunity, again, we have an awful lot of players that we're redshirting, but we're practicing everybody, but keep moving the program forward and keep pushing ahead.
There's a lot of things that we're getting better at and there's a lot of things we need to improve on. The good thing about it is we can never practice long enough right now or play enough because the only way you get better is you got to play. You got to learn to be consistent in life and consistent in play. It's not easy to do. You see it from week to week to week. In football, all of a sudden they win, then they lose the next week. It's hard for adults to be consistent. Sometimes it's hard for our kids to be consistent. It's frustrating, there's no doubt about that. But I think that comes over time. As you go through the off-season, you build a program, that seems to change.
I'd like to tell you it's different than I've gone through at the previous stops, but it's not. It's the same thing. You win when you're not supposed to. Then you scratch your head you're playing the way you are. You get close, somebody blows you out. You're trying to figure it all out. That's pretty typical of a situation coming into a new program.
I wish it wasn't that way, but it just seems to work that way.
Q. Question regarding Brandon Green and the pass he threw on the first play last week.
COACH KILL: We threw a good ball there. Went right there into Eric's hand. He's an ex-quarterback in high school. He's used to doing that. Brandon is one of those kids, to be honest with you, when I came, had a bunch of injuries, different things, inconsistencies. He's been a pleasant surprise, played well for us. Knock on this, he's stayed pretty healthy, played through some things. I've been pleased with Brandon. That's been a good addition. He's done some nice things for us.
I wish we'd have caught the ball, but we didn't.
That's kind of where we're at. We caught the ball against Michigan State, Da'Jon went about 70 yards. Iowa we made a couple plays, the kids rallied around it. But Saturday we didn't make a couple of those plays. That's where we struggled. It's all right here, we don't seem to fight back off those moments very good.
Seems like we get off to a start, somebody makes a big play, we feed off it. But, boy, when we don't, we struggle. That's kind of the way Saturday went. We could have been back in that game in the fact that we run a fake field goal. If my memory serves me right, I've been preparing for Northwestern, but I'm pretty sure we run the fake field goal, get a score, good kickoff, stop them, get the ball back, we're driving down, we got the guy wide open, he picks the ball and swung the game just like that (snapping fingers). If we complete that ball, the momentum shifts.
That's the game of football. You got to make those plays. You only get them so many times. When you get them open, have those opportunities, you have to take advantage of them. We just didn't.
Q. When you recruit quarterbacks who may play other positions, do you tell them they are going to get a shot at quarterback and they may move later? Do you tell them you want to move them?
COACH KILL: I tell them both. I mean, there's a lot of things. I got a pretty good plan. There's a lot of good things going on in our program, where we're headed. Kind of have a plan, direction where we need to go to be successful. We'll see how it plays out in the spring. I can't talk a lot about all of it because a lot of it deals with recruiting.
I gave the example I think early in the year. Gary Patterson, I think last year three of the tight ends he had on his team were ex-quarterbacks. You look at a lot of high schools, you talk to coaches, a lot of times you'll see they'll put the best athlete at quarterback. He may be a runner, a thrower, whatever, but he may be the best player on the team. They may not be a college quarterback. Or maybe one that is a college quarterback, but is not going to play, give them an opportunity to move.
But I'm always honest when we recruit them. I mean, I tell them, Hey, we're recruiting you as a quarterback. I'll tell them if I'm recruiting them as a quarterback, a guy that could play another position, I'll tell them. I want them to know up front. I don't want to hear about it later on if we move them. I tell them right up front.
I just think that's what you got to do.
But our defensive ends, there's a couple of them that played at Northern Illinois, that were quarterbacks coming out of high school. One of them, we weren't going to recruit. I went and watched him play basketball. I seen him do two 360s, we recruited him. Put his hand on the ground, he's our best pass-rusher. 215 when we recruited him, weighs 239, 240, continues to grow.
I know when I was a high school coach at Webb City, Missouri, our quarterback was a great athlete. He could have played college quarterback. He was a big-time recruit. He went to Arkansas and played linebacker. Recruited as a quarterback, but they played him at linebacker. We put him at quarterback because he's the best player on the field.
I think when you're recruiting, you look at those type of things. But part of that is also getting them in camp. We did that with kids. If they were quarterback, we put their hand on the ground to see what they could do. That's part of the camp, see what kids can do. Some kids physically don't want to play defense. Some of them are more offensive minded. You have to figure that out and go from there.
That's a good question.
Q. Looks like 10 teams from this conference are going to qualify for bowls. Does it bother you they are all getting two weeks of practice and you won't be?
COACH KILL: This will be the first time, I don't know, in a long time. You turn it to a positive. We'll be recruiting. What are you going to do? We'll take it as a positive. We'll still be here. We'll be farther along than we were last year. I wasn't here at the time. We'll have a good recruiting base. Our kids will be working in the off-season.
We need to get in the weight room and get stronger and faster anyway. Sometimes if you're 6-6, going to a bowl game... Right now we need to be in the weight room getting bigger, stronger, faster. We'll take it and turn it into a positive, to be honest with you. Nothing else we can do about it.
Q. Do you talk to Gary Patterson? Talk to him before or after the Boise game?
COACH KILL: As most people know, I don't text much. When you're trying to win a game, build a program, the communication level, he understands what I'm doing. He's been in communication with me through texts telling me, Hang in there, you know what you're doing, I got your back, those kind of things, just like a friend would do.
I certainly text him. I told him congratulations on the win. Wanted to know if they're going to change his name to the Magic Man. Guy's a good football coach. Nobody can take that away from him. As long as he's done it, he chose to stay there. Now they go into the Big 12, that will be a little bit different. But he's done a good job. I don't think anybody can take that away from him. Great defensive football coach. Very, very good defensive football coach.
Q. What will it be like for you to go back to Illinois, a state you had so much success in?
COACH KILL: It's all the same, to be honest. I look forward to going back. I just want to see our team get better. I'm at the University of Minnesota right now. I'm in the state of Minnesota. My wife and I love it here. Like I said at the very beginning, I wish I could wave the magic wand, we're going to a bowl game, everybody is excited and happy.
My wife and I both are disappointed for everybody in the state. Our time will come. I walked off the field Saturday and I went through the tunnel and walked into the locker room, had to go talk to those kids. All I'll tell you is our time will come. It all cycles back around eventually. I look forward to being in that cycle. I don't like being in this one.
Q. Still own a home in Illinois?
COACH KILL: Not at Northern. I took a hit on a home. The state got some money out of me (smiling).
But, no, we sold our home there at Northern. In case you guys run me off, I've got a place, a lake house, in Marion, Illinois, on Lake Egypt, maybe two bedrooms, a little bitty place, sits on a lot of water, and nobody can find me there. It's a place where my wife, when I got cancer, it's kind of unique, it's on faith Drive. When I had cancer, didn't know what would happen, I always wanted a place on a lake. I drove around, found Faith Drive, looked at this place that was a dump, they were about ready to give it away. They said, You're not going to get any better water. A pretty good deal if you get somebody to fix it up. My wife knew somebody. I had to talk to her for at least a month because she thought I was crazy for thinking about it. But we did it6.
I was going to sell that thing. I went ahead and kept it because my daughter goes to Murray State, Murray, Kentucky. We can go down and see her every once in a while.
Other than that, no ties to Illinois.
Q. Will you have a lot of support at Northwestern this week?
COACH KILL: I've been fortunate. I've been blessed. Every week, Joel can attest to this, he comes down there, as a staff, as a group of people, we have ex-players from all over the place coming in. We don't have enough tickets to get people tickets to get to the game. We've had a huge following. We'll have a huge group of people. That's why you coach.
The good thing about it, a lot of the ex-players have been supportive of me because they know I'm not a very good loser. They know I'm not very good at it. A lot of the kids that were part of that 1-10 season when I went to Southern Illinois have been up here, been in the locker room actually, talked to some of our players. Said, Hey, stick with the old man. Do what he tells you, you'll win. We're living proof of it. They've been supportive of me without me even asking, which is a neat thing, so...
We'll get there. We just got a lot of work to do.
Q. How will you deal with the pace of Northwestern's offense.
COACH KILL: I got home after our game, watched Oregon play. I mean, they're a machine with what they do. They do run a very fast-paced offense. That makes them a little bit different. We'll get all the stuff today. We have to get all the checks, all the things that you got to do to get lined up against it, then we'll try to simulate it for our defense as much as we can. We'll have to work together all week to get that accomplished.
It's kind of like running option football, split back veer. When you don't see it week-to-week, it's different. Mike Gundy is doing it at Oklahoma State right now. They did a great job. It took a year or two. After we go through this thing, one year, we get done playing, we have to look and look at the direction we need to go to do here at the University of Minnesota.
That will be tough. We're actually going to do some of it today. Again, they do so many things from 10 personnel, 11 personnel, putting two quarterbacks in the game, you have to get all that taken care of before you get to the pace of the game. We'll simulate it with our first group offense, some of the things we can do. We can channel a good rhythm. We won't be exactly, but hopefully we'll do a good enough job in practice to get ready for it. They make it tough on you.