Watch, Read: Fickell Talks Penn State
An interview with: COACH FICKELL
Q. Luke, both Boom Herron and Mike Adams started their first game back from suspension. Do we anticipate the same will be true of DeVier Posey this week?
COACH FICKELL: I don't know yet. Today's only Tuesday, so we've got to go out there and see how that whole thing works out. We've got to see if Tommy Brown can come back too as well. He was out last week, so there are some combination there. He'll have an opportunity. We'll see how practice goes, and we'll see as we get closer to get game time.
Q. Can you give us an update on Andrew Sweat, and Johnathan Hankins, what their status is? It looked like Andrew might be iffy or whatever?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, I don't know, like we've heard that it's probably real good to show him stumbling around if that was the case. He got hit. Don't know if he's going to be available for who knows how long.
The biggest concern is that we make sure he gets okay regardless of the football aspect of things. There are a lot of things there that we don't know about just yet.
Big John, don't know. He didn't make it back into the football game. Right now it doesn't look probably real good. We'll see as the week moves along. We've got maybe some decent news that hopefully it wasn't getting the MRI results back, hopefully it's not a season ending one of those things. So we're not positive just yet.
Q. Follow up with the quarterback club people, I guess. As a defensive coach, when you look at what your offense does, what are your impressions? What are they trying to do?
COACH FICKELL: They're trying to control the ball, but we all know there has to be some balance. There was a tough situation, compounded it with obviously not winning a toss, and having the wind in your face to start the game. There are some things that you've just got to be able to make a few yards and rely on some of those guys up front even if they are putting in the extra guys.
I think that was maybe the philosophy a little bit. When it works, it doesn't get as many questions that it doesn't work quite as well. Obviously there are a lot more questions. We all know. We've said it a million times, balance has got to be the key. We've got to create and find some more of that whether it's throwing it or screening it or drawing it like the guy from the quarterback club said. That's a part of continuing to get better at.
Q. This could possibly cost you a Big Ten Championship Game. Are you concerned about a carryover or hangover effect on the team moving forward?
COACH FICKELL: You know what, I think the young guys are more resilient than you think. Sometimes you come back on Sunday and the best thing you can do is get back at it. That's what you saw from those guys. Yes, they're disappointed. Yes, they're hurt. They've got a passion to play. They've got a passion to get better. They're not happy with where they are, so that was the greatest thing to see come Sunday.
Yes, they're down and disappointed, but you get back out there and sometimes it clears their minds a little bit more. You see what they're really all about. They're about continuing to fight through this thing.
That is the best thing I can tell you that I said at the end of the game. We were all down. We were all hurt. But I told them, I said there is nothing that I like to see more than at least the passion you had fighting, clawing back, not playing our best.
But when the chips were down, there was nobody that was sitting on the side trying to pull themselves out. They showed some passion there, and we didn't get the job done. But I think that's what we've got to continue to build on.
Q. The tight end doesn't really seem to be much of a target. Is that a case of play calling or coaching decisions or Braxton maybe not going through progressions the way he should be or needs to be?
COACH FICKELL: It still comes down to it sometimes when people are going to play you, man, you've got to get open. I'm not saying it's just on a specific guy, but sometimes you've got to do some different things.
I don't know. Things are called for those guys at times and it's still a whole part of the whole thing. We can sit here and say they can ask questions saying you had guys beat down the field. Is the quarterback too worried about throwing an interception, so he overthrows him.
No, those aren't the things. It still comes down to it's a whole scheme. Sometimes when you call a play and the protection breaks down because the tight end is released, there are things that compound on it.
No, we still know our tight end is a target. We still believe those guys can be very effective for us. We've just got to do a better job at getting them some other opportunities and hitting them when we have a chance. He almost made a play on the very first third down. I'm not saying it was to him.
But it still comes down to having the ability to make plays when they come about, you know? Defensively, the ball's on the ground three times in the first half, fumbles, dropped, whatever. We didn't get either of the three, or any of the three. Those are the differences in the ball games.
Q. What do you expect DeVier's return to do for the offense both in passes he might catch, but also having a veteran receiver presence that make opens things up for the offense as a whole?
COACH FICKELL: Hopefully it gives him spark, kind of like it did with Boom. He's been the guy that throughout this entire process, I promise you the guy's respect for the way he's handled himself, the way he's practiced, what he's shown he's learned from the situation, and hopefully that gives him a spark.
Obviously, he's a senior. He'll be playing his last game at home, and those guys, just like when Boom, you look around and you're in a huddle and you've got a guy that's got some confidence and has been there and done it, hopefully they can feed off of that. That's what we're looking for.
Q. For DeVier and the other seniors who have had off the field issues in their career, what do you think the reaction from the fans will be on Senior Day for them? What do you think the reaction from the fans should be for those guys on Senior Day?
COACH FICKELL: I can't control that. I can't. There are a lot of things that you can't spend a whole lot of time worrying about. Talked to the quarterback about the toughest thing with your energy is your mind can wander with so many different things. What the fans are going to say.
Hopefully, they're not worried about it, our guys. But to me, they should play. They've made a mistake. They've served their penance. They've shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves.
No, the fans and everybody probably doesn't know that as well. They haven't been there every day to see how they've been in that locker room. What they've meant to those guys, whether they were freshmen or seniors along with them. So hopefully they will understand that and give them their due.
COACH FICKELL: J.B.'s probably over there getting treatment right now, but we don't know exactly on him just yet. We'll have to find out. Tomorrow will be a big part to see if he can do it. He's probably close, but I would say he's very questionable whether he'll be able to make it for Saturday. Then Ryan was a guy who stepped up for us. Played 3/4th of the game at will linebacker, and really did a good job of running around, and his first real probably time. He played a bit in the past, but did a good job at just handling himself and running around and being active and everything we needed him to do.
Q. You talked about young guys are more resilient than people think. In regard to Penn State, could you at least speak to what it must be like for them with all this trauma that's taken place around them that they had to strap it on and go play a game on Saturday and they have a season to play out, how difficult it must be for them?
COACH FICKELL: I couldn't speak exactly. I can just speak from the experience of our young guys and all the turmoil that they've had. I'm not comparing and contrasting. That's probably what I don't want to do, but I think young people are very resilient.
Sometimes they don't they have a loss or they have a situation that happens and they get over it probably a lot quicker than maybe some of us older people. I don't know how to say that. I'm not saying we're the same age there, but closer than maybe people think. We feel the same better now.
I'm just saying they do a good job of continuing to move on, and I know ours have done that. It's not easy. The more that people talk about it, it gets brought back up.
But they have a tendency to be able to move on and focus and at the task at hand more so than dwell upon the past, I think.
Q. Do they push it aside or put it in the back of their mind? I've got kids about that age that just kind of forget about it completely, too?
COACH FICKELL: I don't want to compare it to anything else. This is obviously something far greater than a loss. But you can see guys come back on Sunday night. Those different things are out of their minds. They've moved on. Whether they say I wasn't a part of it or it wasn't me, sometimes to me it's more of the outside people talk about it and make it a little bit more than what maybe the people truly on the inside do because they accept and move on ask try to stay focused on what they have to do.
Q. With everything your team has been through, just your thoughts on this senior class? What they've dealt with this year? What do you hope that they are remembered for as they go out for their last home game?
COACH FICKELL: It's going to be about them as a whole. It's their body of work. We all know that we're remembered how we play our senior year. I don't care. I was a player here. We've talked about it every year that I've been here, your legacy as a senior, this, that and the other thing.
But sometimes those are things like we said at the beginning of the year, how would you compare this team to another? You're going to write those stories when they're all said and done. So we can't worry about what our legacy's going to be until it's all said and done.
If we do, it's that same thing. How much energy do we have to sit here and think about what is our legacy going to be? Are they going to "boo" me when I come out because I was suspended? Those are things that are outside of our control. When it's all said and done, when the season's over, then you can reflect back and look back to see what your legacy is.
To me, these guys have battled through a lot. I've got the utmost respect for them for how they've handled the situations. The way they've been in the locker room, I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me, and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months. They've been up there standing up for us all.
Q. You guys, the coaches talked about when you come back from a game like that, you know how much scrutiny you're under this year. People are watching your every move. Scrutinizing everything you do from your calls to what you say in your press conferences and stuff. How tough is it right now in the situation you're in with four losses and knowing everybody's watching everything you guys are doing, just you and your group, your coaching group?
COACH FICKELL: It's not easy, but the world isn't fair. Some people try to say, hey, are you going to ask the question is it fair for the situations? You know, life isn't fair. There are a lot of different things that happen out there. Is it fair that we've got a coach and a great friend that's going through and battling cancer right now, Coach Daniels. Is it fair that he has to go through what he has to go through?
So there are a lot of different situations. We understand that it's a part of life, so we're not going to sit here and make excuses and worry about those type of things. We've just got to continue moving forward and focus on what we can control. We said at the beginning of the year, it's truly about this group of young men. It's about this group of coaches. It's about this program. All of the other things will have to take care of themselves.
We know there are going to be situations, but that is a part of life. This isn't a utopia we live in. I graduated from college the same time you graduated from college. You have a better grade point average than me, and are probably a lot smarter than me, but I've got a better job. Life isn't fair. You just have to continue to tackle the situations and continue to move forward.
Q. You have to have tunnel vision in what you do and you're focused on the X's and O's. Do you have an appreciation for just how different this game is? No Jim Tressel. No Joe Paterno. Just everything that's swirling around both programs?
COACH FICKELL: Those are two people that won't be here, and there are probably 70 on their side and 106 players on our side. So we probably focus on the things we have and not the things we've lost.
That's one of those things again that is tunnel vision or call it what it is, I'm sure Coach Bradley is focused on the 70 that he's going to bring over here, and I'm going to be focused on the 105 that we'll dress.
Q. One of your players said after the game they don't understand what they've had to go through and how tough it's been at times. Do you ever stop and check in with your players, call them in and put your arm around them to see how they're doing through all of this? Or do you just watch their actions and see it in their faces?
COACH FICKELL: Believe me, we're in this business because of those young men. We have jobs because of them. I remind them that it's not about me. We've said that from the git go, so we actually had meetings with each class.
Not as much just specifically individual, but believe me, these guys care about these guys, so we know every little thing that's going on with them. If there's a problem, believe me, we weren't just focused on the big picture. We said that from the git go.
Our foundation is completely different. I know we get evaluated on the wins and losses, but that's not what we're about. I think they know what we're about. We know what they're about. Believe me, we pay a lot more attention to how they feel and what they're going through than just the performance on Saturday.
Q. Coach, you played against Penn State four times. I looked up and you were 3 1 in the games you played against?
COACH FICKELL: Don't ask about that one, please.
Q. That one has been blotted.
COACH FICKELL: I wasn't there (laughing).
Q. You coached against them nine times. What is typical of this rivalry? It just seems like the intensity is there as one of the most important games on your schedule every year it seems.
COACH FICKELL: Ever since they came into the Big Ten it was a huge bonus. Obviously two schools, and we've said it with some of the other ones, the history that goes back and forth. We can both claim to have the greatest history in college football and this, that or the other thing, the greatest fans, the largest university.
We might be 1 and 2 with the largest alumni associations in the world. There are a lot of big similarities and things, but truly on the field, we're very similar as well.
It could be a shorter, super long game if people are going to run the football and pound it. But there are a lot of similarities in the teams, lot of similarities in their histories, regardless of the things that people want to talk about the negative things.
There are a lot of similarities in all the positives from their university to our university from their football program to our football program.
Q. What concerns you the most about what they do on offense and defense?
COACH FICKELL: Finally a football question. Well, obviously, I think it starts with their defense. No. 1 in the Big Ten, I think, in pass efficiency; so that might make it a little more difficult to throw the football like some of us want to do.
But the thing that they're going to do is they're going to pressure you. They're going to have those front four guys coming every single time. They do a great job with that, ever since I've known them. Ever since we've played against them, I think that's where it starts for them.
Their front seven will be very, very strong and sound in what they do. They're not going to confuse you probably a ton. You're going to know what you're going to get, and that makes them that much better.
I think it starts there. Offensively, I think their ability to run the football has been what's been really good for them. You look back last week, and I know they lost, but I think they ran the ball 48 times. They made a couple big long passes to get back in the game, but at the end of that game they were running the football to give themselves a chance.
Q. What you just said right there could apply to you as well. Aren't there a lot of similarities between the teams the way you're playing now both trying to get by on a few points and relying on your defense?
COACH FICKELL: Yeah, like we said, there are a lot of similarities. As you go back through the history of the last ten years, you could probably say that in some of their teams and our teams as well. There have been times that the thing about it as a team, that they've had a quarterback that maybe they were led a little more offensively kind of like we were sometimes with Troy Smith, but as a whole, very similar.
Q. Defensively for a long time you've been very good at getting teams off the field on third downs. The last couple of weeks though I think converting like 58% opponents. Is there a common denominator? What do you see happening? What has to change on that?
COACH FICKELL: We've got to make a few more plays. When you break those stats down, that is the last two weeks where we've been probably poorest, and sometimes when you just look at third downs in general, if you're good on third down, it's probably because you had a lot more third and seven to tens than you did from third to three to fives.
So those things add in there. We look at third down, but a lot of times that's first and second down that figures into that as well.
Ultimately, that's what it comes down to. You have to get off the field on third down. We have to do a better job whether that's getting to the quarterback, covering up receivers. We know that, and that's where we're focused.
Q. Luke, the difference between the two quarterbacks with McGloin and Bolden, obviously different style of players. How difficult is that for you this week in preparation to figure out the percentages of who is going to likely play and what scenario and maybe the different things they'll do with the different guys in the game?
COACH FICKELL: I mean, you've got to go back and look. They're still going to be similar in what they do. They're not going to change up their entire offense for which quarterback they have in, so they're going to probably make both of them have to adjust to what they truly do.
You've just got to be aware. There are some differences in what their abilities bring but you still have to focus on what you can do to be successful, and adjust a few things when they switch quarterbacks, kind of like they did last week.
Q. The tackling from your defense, I imagine that's frustrating for you right now, the missed tackles. How much can you work on tackling in practice through the week? I'm sure there is a fine line there, you don't want to get your guys beat up, but you still want to work on tackling?
COACH FICKELL: It's the number one thing. We're always going to say, the best 11 tacklers we're going to put on defense. You know, if it means a guy is a safety, that's one of the best 11 tacklers and we have to move to get him on the field, we have to do it. It becomes a lot more obvious when their open field, when there aren't four or five other guys right behind him if a guy does miss a tackle.
It's still a team concept. You're going to miss some tackles and have some of those things. They're a lot more obvious in the open field. When you don't have three or four other guys flying there or almost there, that to me is as big a problem as we've had.
We have to do a better job tackling. We have to continue to practice it, but late in the season it gets difficult because you don't tackle, truly tackle, a whole lot in practice.
Q. You guys talk about not making a lot of excuses even though you have a young team. But when you see your guys and your team make some of the mistakes they were making and now in week ten that they were making in week one, does that concern you, and what do you attribute that to?
COACH FICKELL: We've got to continue to focus on what we think they can do. If they can't handle some of the things that we think they might be able to handle or should handle, it's on us to be able to change a little bit.
We know what they are. We know what we're going to get out of them. We know we're going to get energy out of them. We know they're going to give everything they've got. We've just got to do a better job putting them in a situation where they can be successful.
Yes, we have to ask them to grow and do some of those things. Don't get me wrong, but we have to be smart enough to know what our guys can handle and what we need to do to be successful.
Q. Tom Bradley's dealing with kind of a microcosm of what you were thrust to back in May. But how difficult is it for a coach that is kind of thrown into a situation, not able to hire his own staff, et cetera, to truly put his stamp on the team? Especially you coming from the defensive side, the offensive side, Tom Bradley in the same situation. How difficult is it for to you put out there what you want to see on a day to day basis or week to week basis not having the ability to hire and fire in that situation?
COACH FICKELL: I'm sure Tom's not too worried, exactly, about that. There are a lot of other things. Obviously, not the exact same timeframe, and not the exact same situation, but you have to go with what you've got.
You're not going to make excuses with a whole lot of things in whatever situation you're dealt. Like we said, life isn't fair. There are some similarities, but I don't think that you could, like we said from the git go, it's not going to be about me.
Since I started this and took over, it wasn't a stamp that I was going to put on is going to be about what I think is important. I'm sure Coach Bradley is the same way. He's not going to sit there in the next four weeks or three weeks and say, hey, this is my chance. I'm going to put a stamp on it. He's a team guy. He's been around it. He understands what the situation is, and he's going to do what he thinks is best for his program and his team.