Wolverines Focus on Notre Dame
COACH HOKE: Well, it was good to win on Saturday, obviously. We have a lot that we need to keep doing better. I think we did some things better than we did the week before, but still we are growing as a team I think in a lot of ways, and we have got to improve every week if we want to be the kind of team that we need to be.
So we just have to keep making progress on fundamentals to techniques, everywhere across the board; do a better job up front on both sides of the ball, and you’ve heard that many, many times, and you probably will continue to hear it. But that’s where the game is played and that’s where it starts.
For us, you know, going on the road, playing a Notre Dame team that’s 3‑0 and has played very well, been in tight games, they have played in East Lansing, had a tight game at Purdue and won the football game at the end.
You look at them as a team, their front seven on defense is playing really well together; disruptive. And offensively, I think Everett Golson who has done a nice job running the offense and managing it, a lot of tight ends involved, and they are a good football team.
So we have our hands full and we need to get a lot better as a football team.
Q. You talked about where you wanted to be ‑‑ can you talk about the test they have, because of NotreDame’s front seven that seems really good.
COACH HOKE: I think it’s going to be‑‑ see how far we’ve come from game one to game four, is exciting. There’s no question, that it’s going to be a test; they have been very productive as a football team and as a defensive team. You know, we’ll have to block at the line of scrimmage and need to do a great job of protection.
Q. Where would you assess where you are with the wide receiver position?
COACH HOKE: One thing last week, I think it’s probably one of the better positions on our team, from a depth standpoint. And last week, watching them block on the perimeter, I thought that was exciting. Most people don’t get excited about blocking, but I do. I thought we put a nice jab on the perimeter.
I think Devin in his progress is coming along. I think Gallon is a tough guy, and Dileo, not the biggest guys in the world, but they will go out and block anybody. So that part of it was good, and I think the depth at that position is probably better.
Q. Your top two tacklers right now are both safeties; is that something by design, the function of who you, play, or is it just we need to get more from our linebackers?
COACH HOKE: I’ll always tell you we need to get more from our linebackers. But when you play Air Force, your safety has got to be guys who make a lot of tackles.
I think last week, Thomas was a little more involved and it was good to see him, because I think he can be a real playmaker for us, has that ability. But some of it’s by design, depending on what coverages you’re playing and then some of it, obviously we like to see the second level guys and the guys up front get off blocks and make some plays.
Q. Going back to the receivers, Denardis on eight guys first half, does that speak to where he’s at right now with the passing game; that he’s able to spray it around?
COACH HOKE: No.1, I thought he really threw the ball well. He had really two bad throws. One, he kind of darted out there to Devin on the one play, instead of just throwing it; he kind of aimed it. And then you know, the interception, he was a little bit behind the receiver.
But I thought he threw the ball well and I thought his decision making was really good. And probably you know, when you look at it, it was good to see him put that in running with the ball together.
Q. Will it help your defense as much as they have seen him in practice to get ready for who they are facing?
COACH HOKE: I was thinking about that while I was watching their tape. You know, we see a guy like that every day, we do enough live stuff one‑on‑one against each other, that you know, hopefully it will be, you know, some similarities there and that our guys are a little bit used to the speed. But you never know until you get in that environment.
Q. Are you expecting Beyer, Morgan, Ash, any of those guys back this week?
COACH HOKE: Beyer, not sure. Morgan should be. Ash should be.
Q. How do you balance continuity and letting these guys get a groove, as opposed to, let’s see if this tweak with this guy starting in place of this guy will be the thing‑‑
COACH HOKE: What we have determined to be our best five are playing. If someone else is better, believe me, they would have stepped up and that’s one of the things you want to see is that competition level keep going on so that there is great competition at all those positions. But our best five are on the field.
Q. You talked about the receiver position and how that’s a strength; a lot of people didn’t realize that was going to be earlier in the year. Can you talk about Gardner, how much of a surprise he’s been for you, and also Funchess, what he’s given you hear in the past couple of weeks.
COACH HOKE: Devin really did not surprise me to be honest with you, from an athletic standpoint, or surprise us. We wouldn’t have moved him if we didn’t think he had the ability. I think the progression has been good. I think when you look at him block, you know, he’s a quarterback, he never had to block. And now the toughness that he’s showing there‑‑ I mean, the other thing, really, Funchess he’s an athlete and to make some catches that, you know, maybe some other guys couldn’t make, and also, you know, he’s a little bit of a mismatch.
Q. You’re finally seeing a team here that you saw last year. How much do you rely on your personal experience from last year versus what you’ve seen off of their film this year?
COACH HOKE: You know, you always‑‑ personally, I think you always look at what they have done lately. It’s like anything else, they are a different football team than they were last year just like we are. There’s some similarities in some guys who are playing, but at the same time, you know, from an offensive standpoint with Everett in there, could be a little bit different than when Tommy was in there.
So, you know, that part of it, the first two games, they didn’t have Cierre Wood. He’s a definite playmaker; they had him last week. So you’ve got to take what you see right now.
Q. Last year’s team‑‑
COACH HOKE: Well, that’s the thing that they have done a nice job. I think they are plus four. And last year, the game before us, I think they were minus five. And it’s one of those things where they are doing a good job with the football, and we are not getting the football back very much right now, and that’s got to improve.
Q. What Denard has done the last two years against NotreDame, they are going to game plan everything to stop him or slow him down; do you add wrinkles all the time so that they are not prepared for something, or do you stick with what has worked for him? How do you balance that?
COACH HOKE: Well, you know, they obviously have some answers. They had some answers the first three quarters last year, because we didn’t do anything, if you’ll remember, offensively. And didn’t play really great defense. And so, you know, Al always has different things that week‑to‑week he’ll put in the game plan.
Q. We saw Norfleet in the backfield toward the end of the game; how do you see him progressing in the future?
COACH HOKE: Be honest with you, you know, he ran a couple jets in there and he’s a good athlete, we’ll see.
Q. You’ve been pretty critical on the run blocking, your team has done so far, but how do you assess the pass blocking? Seems like they have kept Denard‑‑
COACH HOKE: We have had a couple issues, a little against Air Force probably and maybe a little against Alabama, but for the most part, they have done a pretty good job.
Q. What’s your most vivid memory of playing a game over in that stadium?
COACH HOKE: Being up I think 14‑3 at half‑time and getting beat 28‑24. Pretty vivid.
Q. Is there one thing that you can point to with the defense that you need to do better to create more turnovers?
COACH HOKE: I think there’s three things. You know, we’re practicing the same way, you do turnover drills and all that stuff. But you’ve got to think: Tighter coverage, whether it be man coverage or zone coverage; if you’re pressuring the quarterback; you have to get 11 bodies to the football, those three things.
Q. Going back a couple questions, just what does this NotreDame game mean to you personally and then playing in that stadium, how special is that?
COACH HOKE: You know, this is a great national rivalry, and we are fortunate at Michigan, because we have three great rivalry games. You know, the storied history of our programs, on and off how this series has gone, I think it’s special.
I think it’s one reason why you go and come to Michigan; to play in that rivalry.
Q. You mentioned the turnovers. When you see a team like UMASS put the ball on the grass on a hand off, how frustrating is that as a coach to not come up with it and is it more just not being in the right place at the right time or a pursuit/effort thing?
COACH HOKE: There’s always pursuit and effort things that you look at and you evaluate. On that particular one, I mean, it kind of came right back to the guy. But at the same time, you’re always trying to evaluate that.
Q. To follow up the second part of the question about the stadium there, it will be your first time as a head coach, but obviously you’ve been there before, stadiums don’t win games, but what do you think about that venue and how intimidating is it, or is it more about the players on it?
COACH HOKE: It’s always about the players. I mean, no matter what. Now, you can always‑‑ playing on the road and being Michigan, you’re always going to get everybody’s best. I think for us, it’s a night game, a home game for NotreDame; I think, you know, there will be some things that will be loud and we have got to do a great job managing our communication and what we want to do.
COACH HOKE: Well, because of his leadership, you know, Brandon has done a tremendous job. I think when you look at recognizing somebody like Kramer, I mean, there’s a lot‑‑ you know, him being a great athlete here and obviously going on, and I was a Packer fan, so I can remember watching him play.
But you know, for Brandon, he was a guy that we all thought as a staff, he’s the kind of guy that, you know, exuded kind of that leadership and character that you want.
Q. What is Stephen Hopkins status?
COACH HOKE: He may be ready.
Q. The new NCAA rules that allow you to have four assistants instead of two‑‑
COACH HOKE: You have two more coaches on the field.
Q. Are you using them any differently?
COACH HOKE: No. We got two more coaches on the field.
Q. Are you in favor of that?
COACH HOKE: Yes. I think it helps develop young coaches, too.
Q. You mentioned the depth that you’re seeing among the wide receivers. Darboh was played on special teams, is he working his way more towards‑‑
COACH HOKE: He’s done a nice job, he had two tackles on a kickoff team the other day. He’s played some at wide receiver and first play he’s in, he had a great block. You know, I think he improves every week.
Q. What’s the biggest memory for you from last year in this game?
COACH HOKE: I would say the team on the sideline is great throughout the game. Communicating and believing in each other and all those things.
Q. You talked before the season again that you might not use your tight ends very much, what have you seen out of that group overall? Is this kind of how you would like to use them going forward?
COACH HOKE: You know, I’m not sure where you got that we were not going to use them as much. But I think with the development of the two young guys and then Mike Kwiatkowski doing a good job, and then I give Brandon Moore a lot of credit because he’s been a real teacher to them and done a good job with the young guys.
Q. Speaking of the tight ends, what have you seen out of A.J. Williams?
COACH HOKE: He’s a guy who is mainly on the line of scrimmage. He’s learning how to play college football, learning how to block fundamentally and technique, that’s a big part of it. He’s got great hands, and he can run.
Q. Only three sacks so far‑‑ how do you go about getting more pressure and where is that line between blitzing and‑‑
COACH HOKE: Right now, you’ve got to look at it‑‑ I’ll be honest with you, you look at the Air Force game and you have to take that one out of the mix to be honest with you. I thought we had very good pressure against Alabama at times, the four‑man rush, and gaming it a little bit. We obviously want to be better with pressure and we would love to have more sacks and have more negative plays, tackles for less and those kind of things.
But I think, you know, it’s just like anything else we are doing right now, it’s a little bit of a work‑in‑progress.
Q. Watching Frank Clark, he can generate those kind of plays, how important is he to the pass rush?
COACH HOKE: I think him, I think Mario Ojemudia. I think he probably played as well as anybody up front last week. But him and Jake when we put in our sub‑packages; Craig Roh adds a dimension in there and Jibreel Black. We have to count on all those guys.
COACH HOKE: That’s something we have done since day one. You know, Craig will play a little bit more because Mike inside a year ago but now Craig is more of an inside guy; because you’ve got Ojemudia and you have Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and Cam Gordon.
Q. What do you think of Craig’s play so far?
COACH HOKE: I think he’s doing fine. I think, you know, we have got to do a better job of getting off blocks and holding the point better. But I think he’s doing good.
Q. The transition for Courtney from being a nickel most of last year to now playing more of‑‑ at quarterback, how is he adapting?
COACH HOKE: I think he’s a smart football player. I think that’s one of the best things that Courtney has is football intelligence. I think, you know, we still use him some in the nickel situation, but as an inside player. Competition outside with him and Ray will continue.
Q. Can you talk about Ray’s progress?
COACH HOKE: Ray, you know, is making progress. His technique is a little better, his fundamentals are a little better, his eyes are a little better, which are a big part. You play defensive back with your feet and your eyes, I think he’s learning that.
Q. Hagerup, moving his punts, he had a 60‑yarder last game and it seems like very often there’s very few players on your cover team within like a couple yards of the receiver when they catch the ball. Are you guys working on getting better punt coverage?
COACH HOKE: I think the one that really last week, was the first one when we pooched it. And Matt pooched it down there and both of our gunners‑‑ they doubled both gunners, which means someone else should have been clean. We have got to do a much better job covering, and then the other one, he drove. You’re not going to have great coverage if you drive a punt 60 yards.
Q. What kinds of things can you do to increase or strengthen your punt coverage?
COACH HOKE: Well, I think you want to look at net punt, and No.1 is if you get the ball up high enough, and allow some guys to get down the field, it’s just getting off blocks.
Q. Is that maybe an underrated part of losing Countess, because of what he was able to do?
COACH HOKE: Blake was one of the guys who, you know, was a starter for us. And we would hope we would have other guys step up. Delonte does a pretty good job, and did a good job last year for us. Joe Reynolds is doing some of that for us, Furman. That’s a real pride thing.
And it depends what kind of return you’re facing, also, they were a big double‑team. They doubled both the gunners. And that means it’s a six‑man box and you want to have somebody in position.
Q. Does it help having these two games scheduled‑‑
COACH HOKE: I think they are both different. There are similarities in some plays, but personnel groups are totally different.
Q. Going off that, how much of a challenge has it been with so many different offenses for your defense?
COACH HOKE: You know, I don’t know if it’s a challenge. I mean, the Air Force One is the biggest one that challenges you, but I mean, you’re still playing blocks, you’re still, you know, I think setting fronts, and I’m just thinking out loud about rules and how you do things; it’s not that big a deal.
Q. You guys have all these ideas in building Ohio State‑‑ do you do anything for NotreDame this week, motivation?
COACH HOKE: Talk about the series, talk about the legacies of it. You know, there’s no talk (ph).
Q. Would you like to see the ACC‑‑
COACH HOKE: They are going to ACC and they need to do what they need to do for them and if it continues, great and if it doesn’t, then we’ll move forward.
Q. You’ve had ten different guys catch the football for you in three games. Is that at least in part a function of spreading it around pretty well?
COACH HOKE: I think it is. I think that’s part of it. I think it’s also calculated in your play calling and what people are giving you.
Q. What do Joe and James bring to the linebacking core?
COACH HOKE: A lot of inexperience and youth, but there is two guys that have pretty good instincts.
Q. Where do you see that inexperience and youth the most?
COACH HOKE: Well, it varies from play to play, to play‑action pass.
Q. How important is the defensive line and their ability to plug things up and start to get the linebackers going?
COACH HOKE: Well, I think it’s really important and how you play blocks and how you demand blocks.
Q. You’ve mentioned work‑in‑progress, week‑after‑week; at what point do you hope that you stop having to say that?
COACH HOKE: Yes.
Q. And do you like that, though, that you’re shaping something now that’s not just for this year but you’re playing a lot of young guys shaping for down the road?
COACH HOKE: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how much I look at it that way. We just have to get‑‑ we have high expectations. And we have to get better a little quicker maybe.
Q. Is the middle linebacker‑‑ more of a time share now than maybe‑‑
COACH HOKE: I don’t know that. They are both going to play.
Q. Is that package‑based or is that based off‑‑
COACH HOKE: Performance based.
Q. There’s so much talk last year after the Illinois game about backing Michigan‑‑ how far away are you from a performance like that?
COACH HOKE: I don’t know. We’ll find out.
Q. What are your thoughts on the hair at linebacker?
COACH HOKE: I have more important things than hair to worry about.
Q. Did you have a sense how far their‑‑ I know you don’t set this bar you have to reach by this, but do you get a sense that they are closer to clicking like you’d like?
COACH HOKE: I think we’ll know more about us as a football team in the next two weeks.
Q. You’ve mentioned to your kids that they have to be better and you’re trying to get the best out of them. Are they responding to that?
COACH HOKE: I think they are. I think when we meet with the seniors on Sunday and Thursday, I think they talk about some things that are encouraging.
Q. Knowing that you have next week off, are you more physical as a result?
COACH HOKE: Well, we are going to be kind of like we have been; more physical last week and we’re going to be more physical again this week practice‑wise.