The Boiling Point: Danny Hope held his weekly press conference Tuesday.
Danny Hope met with reporters yesterday to look back at the loss in Happy Valley and ahead to this week’s homecoming matchup against Illinois. Following are some excerpts, or follow the jump for the entire transcript:
"Q. Is this a bowl team? COACH HOPE: I certainly think so, so do the players. Absolutely. We just have to win enough games. We’re good enough, and we’re going in that direction. And I believe that, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have a heck of a football game if we can stay healthy. Again, we’re a lot better than we were three weeks ago. We certainly think we are, absolutely.Q. And I know you take it one game at a time. When you look at the schedule upcoming, really tough road environments coming up, tough road games, I know the schedule getting tough is what you’re trying to do, but are you going to be ready to play these tough teams? COACH HOPE: I think so. It’s day by day getting our team ready to play. We have a lot of work to do and growth and development. I really like the progress. But I haven’t looked that far ahead to try to see whether or not we’re going to be good enough five weeks from now to beat someone on the schedule. I’m worried about who we’re playing this week.Q. Playing more shots down the field, is that something that comes with Caleb’s progression and getting more comfortable? COACH HOPE: Absolutely. And I think our receivers are getting better. Antavian Edison is playing really well. He’s really courageous. He catches it in a crowd and always comes up with the ball. Really tough guy. He’s certainly a go to guy and a play maker. O.J. Ross is really fast. Our receivers are getting better. Caleb is getting more comfortable. He has the arm strength to play a more vertical game. So we’ll continue in that position."
Q. Danny, I guess when you first look at Illinois, they’re very strong in sacking the quarterback. I think they lead the Big Ten and they’re the national sack leader. Can you talk about what in particular makes them so tough in getting to the quarterback.
COACH HOPE: They have a lot of good athletes, and they bring a lot of pressure. They probably bring some type of pressure or movement probably 85 percent of the time. They take a lot of chances, and sometimes it pays dividends for them and they land. They have a lot of good athletes that run very well, and they bring it with a lot of speed, and they come wide open.
Their style of play, along with what they have as far as the quality of the athletes to do it with, together it makes them very good at creating pressure and getting to the quarterback.
Q. And I don’t know if I’m pronouncing his name right. It’s like Mercilus, their defensive end.
COACH HOPE: Good as I can get it.
Q. What’s that?
COACH HOPE: You said it right. You’re perfect.
Q. What makes him in particular so tough to block?
COACH HOPE: He has a really good motor. They have him on the move all the time. It’s hard to stay in front of him. They bring a lot of pressure, and he’s part of it. He jail breaks through there and makes plays. He has a good eye, a good nose for the football, and they bring a lot of pressure. He’s a big part of it. All that together with the motor that he has, it accounts for a lot of numbers on his part.
Q. Offensively, a pretty good quarterback-receiver combination with Scheelhaase and Jenkins. Can you talk about the problems they present.
COACH HOPE: Their offense will be a huge challenge for our defense. They’re very good offensively. They very good at passing the football and very good at running the football. They spread you out to do it. That can always create some challenges for your defense.
Scheelhaase is outstanding. He’s an excellent runner with the ball. They throw it very well. The receiver is a big time receiver. Makes very good plays, has great speed. And they have big time running backs. So you’re dealing with a double-edged sword. Outstanding football team where the quarterback is playing outstanding. He has great players around him, and they’re good at both the run game and the pass game.
Q. I just want to get your take, assess your pass defense, how do you think you stand against the pass so far this year?
COACH HOPE: I think we started off really slow, and I think we’ve gotten better. The last couple of teams that we’ve played, they were a lot more run oriented, and I think we’ve made some progress defensively. I think we’re a lot better football team — or a lot better defensive football team now, total football team now than we were three weeks ago. And our defense coming on is certainly a very big part of that.
We can manufacture some pass rush. We started off a little slow with that. I think that’s picked up some. I think that Ryan Russell has gotten a lot better. He’s a young defensive end, but he’s very tall, about 6’5″ and some change, about 260 pounds. I think the light is starting to come on for him some. I think he’s gotten a lot better as a football player. And Kawann Short is a good pass rusher.
We do have good pressure packages. I think we have the potential to be good at manufacturing a pass rush, and I think we’ve gotten better the last couple of weeks. We have pretty good players back in the secondary, some very good players back in the secondary. They’ve been tested some. Against some real top competition, against Penn State and against Notre Dame, in particular, they had outstanding skill players.
I think potentially we can be a good pass defense football team. I think we started slow in that regards, and I think we’re getting better and gaining some momentum.
Q. First thing, I don’t see Robert Maci listed on your depth chart. Is he not available?
COACH HOPE: He’s doubtful. They’re running some tests. I think he feels a lot better than he did three or four days ago. I think we’re going to get him back. I don’t know if it will be this week or not. We don’t have him today. So he’s doubtful.
Q. Does that mean the Kawann Short deal at defensive end might continue, or was that just a one-game deal?
COACH HOPE: Well, we like the results of it and think that any place you can put him, he can be good playing there along the line of scrimmage. So move him around is probably a good idea in some ways, and maybe teams can’t scheme on him quite as much. There’s different things we can ask him to do from different positions across the line of scrimmage. All of them, he could do very well and impact our defensive play.
We did the same thing with Ryan some last year. Even though he was more of an outside guy, there was times we moved him inside to get special play at certain positions across the line of scrimmage. So the same idea in some ways. You could certainly see him out at the end position some. I like him best inside. I really like him over the center at the nose guard position.
He’s a very large and very quick, and he’s going against someone that has one hand on the ball. I think that’s to his advantage in a lot of ways. But move him around, I think it’s going to be good for our team.
Q. The right tackle situation on offense the past two weeks, obviously, after Justin got hurt, are they ready for the type of pass rush you’re going to see?
COACH HOPE: I think so. I think they’re more tailor-made for it really because Illinois is very fast and very long, but they’re not quite as big and thick as Notre Dame or Penn State’s defensive front. Those guys were really big. I had a chance to see Penn State’s defensive front and their offensive linemen in pregame and prior to warmup outside with just their T-shirts on, and they were outstanding looking line prospects.
Illinois has some great athletes, but they’re not quite the same from a thickness standpoint and a weight standpoint. I think, even though our tackles are a little bit lighter, I think our tackles are quick and maybe a little better suited for the style of pressure we’re going to get this week and suited for the style of personnel we’re going to see this week than maybe we have been against a really big defensive end and the really big, big defensive tackles that are coming straight ahead from Notre Dame and Penn State.
Q. One other thing I want to ask about, two weeks in a row now, 92-yard kickoff returns, when you watch the tape, what’s kind of breaking down there that allows that to happen?
COACH HOPE: The play is. I think we’re getting good kicks. We’re getting really good kicks out of Carson. The situation the other day was some of the players on the coverage unit should have equally recognized the direction the turn was going to and should have adjusted their rush in that direction.
They have an option in space when someone tries to block them which way they can avoid, and we needed to make a better decision from an avoid standpoint. And we had the safety in position to make a play that missed. So we have to do a little better job with our coverage lanes, making sure that we avoid properly as we cover. Things happen out there. I think bodies are flying around. But there is a rule and a rhyme or reason to what we’re teaching them, and we didn’t get that done on a play.
It’s the same play the safety missed an open field tackle against some players, and that resulted in a long return. Execution and good players and try to tackle in space.
Q. Just a followup on Kitchens. How is he doing from a health point of view? He traveled and didn’t play. He’s still a little dinged up?
COACH HOPE: He’s still a little bit sore later in the week. Based on the type of people we were going against, it would be tough to take them on and be sore. He’s had three, four more days with no rest and no contact, and he looked really good on Sunday. He looked really sure getting out of the stance.
I think Trevor Foy has done a heck of a job. Trevor Foy needed to play. He’s worked really hard and hasn’t had his chances based on injury. I think he really showed up and had a lot of fight to him. Really a good scrapper out there on the line of scrimmage.
They’re both tall and athletic and really quick. I think both of those guys playing that position can be good for our team. We could take one of those guys and rotate them some at left to get a stronger backup player at the left tackle position as well, but I like what’s happening with our tackle situation right now. I see the emergence of Trevor Foy and Justin Kitchens, and that’s exciting. They’re athletes and tall and get after you.
Q. Has Trevor played well enough that Justin has to work to get his starting spot back?
COACH HOPE: He’s going to have to earn it, certainly. They both played well and give good effort. There’s no drop-off from one compared to the other. They’ll both play and get great energy on the edge and be moving fast. Again, we’ll start working one or both of them at left, get some reps over at left, which will be good for our team.
Q. This happens pretty often, so you’re probably used to it, but it’s more extreme this week.
COACH HOPE: I don’t like the preface.
Q. It will make sense in a second. You go from a Penn State team that was run between the tackles oriented to a more spread them out type of team. How difficult does that make preparation this week?
COACH HOPE: It will be a challenge because, again, they’re very good at both and have a lot of good players to spread you out with. You have to go out there with a plan that you believe that gives you a chance to stop the run. You can’t go out there and have their way with regards to the run defense. And you have to have a plan that you think will allow you to go to your play pass defense. It’s going to be a challenge.
We can’t make many mistakes against a team like Illinois because they’re very explosive and play to win. They’re really talented and really playing hard. It will be a challenge for our defense. I think we’ve gotten a lot better defensively, and we can look at the mistakes we’ve made against the spread offense so far this year and realize these are areas we have to do better in, and the players can identify with it.
So we have some experience already this season against that style of offense in some ways. I think we’re significantly better now on defense than we were three weeks ago. I think our whole football team is becoming a lot better. I think we’re becoming a good football team. That’s what I thought would happen when we started camp and I saw where our team was at. I think we have really good potential. We weren’t there yet, and we’re still not quite there yet. We’re looking like a good football team now.
I think our defense will do well against Illinois, but they’re going to have to do really, really good because Illinois is an exceptional football team.
Q. Good afternoon. Any similarities between Michael Floyd and Jenkins and kind of the lessons trying to defend Floyd that maybe you could apply to this week.
COACH HOPE: Haven’t put a whole lot of thought into a comparison of the two. Obviously, you want to work good matchups and try to put good players on good players, and that seems to be where defensive football has gone the last several years in that direction, almost exclusively in some ways, to try to get the right people on the field and get matchups.
I’m sure that going against a great player like Floyd helps prepare you to make sure you’re more detailed in your alignments and assignments, and you have to learn from the past. I’m sure it will have some value. Exactly how it all connects, I don’t want to elaborate on that right now. Really not prepared to elaborate on that right now. Surely, there will be some carryover.
Has Raheem Mostert found a home on your football return unit, him and Akeem Hunt? Are you comfortable with these two freshmen back there?
COACH HOPE: Those two have my attention, that’s for sure. They’re great players and have great speed and athleticism. Mostert is a really physical guy. Sometimes we use him in other positions and other roles. He likes the physical part of it. He likes running between the tackles some, and that’s not always a choice by a wide receiver, kick returner type guy. I really like the way he plays the game. He’s a physical guy. And so is Akeem Hunt.
They’re really hard workers and really fast. With both those guys back there, you have the potential of a guy with the speed to take it the distance. And the other returner, the off returner, is very important. You want someone back there that can make a play but also someone back there who’s a physical player because he has to pick up what’s over. Someone misses, and you need a mop-up guy. Both of those guys are good physical returners and good off returners. So I like what I have back there.
Q. As you looked at his return the other day, was it set up perfectly for him, or did he kind of have to make a play?
COACH HOPE: I thought he made some people miss and ran really fast. He stepped out of bounds, or he’d have been in there. He was tight roping the sideline. They couldn’t catch him, and they’ve got really fast players. He made some people miss, and they executed really well too. We’ve been just a freckle away three or four times this season. We go back and look at the film, and everyone’s got to do their job. It’s nice that he can make the defender miss. He did some of it on his own, and some of it was execution too. He’s a really good weapon back there, potentially he is for sure.
Q. You’re getting Gavin Roberts and E.J. Johnson back, they’ve been cleared. Are they prepared to play this week? If so, where do you see their role? Are they an option on special teams in any capacity?
COACH HOPE: They would be an option depending on how much time we have to prepare them for it. We only have a certain amount of time in practice to work on special teams. It’s hard to get guys who haven’t played in months to get caught up on a special teams unit, particularly if they haven’t played much on those units before.
E.J. is a defensive player, and he was on some of those units before he got hurt. There are places he can help us on special teams, not as a return guy. I think we have the return people we need on our football right now, but I think he can help us out. Whether he can go in the game as a player or as a backup, we’ll have to try him out.
Gavin will have trouble going right in, so his contribution will have to be on special teams right now. They’re both cleared and ready to go.
Q. How valuable has Chris Carlino been on special teams? Kind of the path he’s taken on his career, playing a lot as a linebacker to really embracing the role as a special teams guy?
COACH HOPE: He contributes a lot more now even though he’s not a regular starter at the linebacker position, just based on being the captain of our football team and his performance on special teams. When he’s played in the games at the linebacker position, he’s done very well and made a lot of plays. I think he’s a great example for the other players on our football team, and I’d like to have a lot more guys on our football team that are like Chris Carlino.
He’s a joy to coach, and he always gives his best. He plays football for all the right reasons. He likes to knock people down and fly around and tackle. He’s old school in a lot of ways. He’s really valuable to our football team. As a special teams player, he sets the tempo. At his linebacker position and his leadership ability amongst his unit throughout all of our team as a leader and just what he brings to the table from an intangible standpoint.
The things about football sometimes are harder to find these days. He really, really likes it. He likes the physical part of it, the wide open play part of it. So he’s really valuable as a player.
Q. So we’re to the midway point in the season now. What do you need to do better the second half of the season?
COACH HOPE: What do I need to do better or the team?
Q. Let’s go both.
COACH HOPE: I need to make sure the team plays better, and the team needs to make sure they can execute better. We’re not that far off. We’ve gotten a lot better the last couple of weeks. We’re about where I thought we would be right now as a team, maybe not necessarily record-wise. I thought we’d have a little bit better record. It’s about where I thought we’d be as a football team, being more sure defensively, and the linebackers, I think, are really coming together now.
New coach, some new things, really tough position. They’ve had a lot of reps. They’ve made some mistakes and learned from it. I think they’re starting to come on now, gaining some momentum at the quarterback position. A guy that hasn’t played in a long time, and he’s done very well. I think he’s getting better and better. I think he showed real grit and real potential as our quarterback.
So I think that we’ve gotten better, and I think we’re becoming a good football team. Two weeks in a row, a week ago against Minnesota, we won against a Big Ten opponent and played very well. Played wide open and fast and aggressive and dominated at times in the game.
This past weekend, even though no one else thought we had a chance to win at Penn State, we went into their stadium at homecoming believing we could win and took it right down to the very end of the ball game and never wavered. Those are good signs for our football team, not just from a mental standpoint or an attitude standpoint, but from a playing standpoint. They’re playing a lot better.
We have to execute a little bit better because the competition is really strong. We don’t have a lot of margin for error as far as mistakes go. If we can minimize our mistakes and everyone keeps playing hard and wide open and playing to win and playing with a lot of emotion and enthusiasm and with a lot of determination, we’re going to keep getting better and win some games. That’s where I think we’re at and what we have to do.
Q. Is this a bowl team?
COACH HOPE: I certainly think so, so do the players. Absolutely. We just have to win enough games. We’re good enough, and we’re going in that direction. And I believe that, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to have a heck of a football game if we can stay healthy. Again, we’re a lot better than we were three weeks ago. We certainly think we are, absolutely.
Q. And I know you take it one game at a time. When you look at the schedule upcoming, really tough road environments coming up, tough road games, I know the schedule getting tough is what you’re trying to do, but are you going to be ready to play these tough teams?
COACH HOPE: I think so.
It’s day by day getting our team ready to play. We have a lot of work to do and growth and development. I really like the progress. But I haven’t looked that far ahead to try to see whether or not we’re going to be good enough five weeks from now to beat someone on the schedule. I’m worried about who we’re playing this week.
Q. Playing more shots down the field, is that something that comes with Caleb’s progression and getting more comfortable?
COACH HOPE: Absolutely. And I think our receivers are getting better. Antavian Edison is playing really well. He’s really courageous. He catches it in a crowd and always comes up with the ball. Really tough guy. He’s certainly a go to guy and a play maker. O.J. Ross is really fast. Our receivers are getting better. Caleb is getting more comfortable. He has the arm strength to play a more vertical game. So we’ll continue in that position.
Q. How does that make you feel about the offense when you can stretch the defense out like that and start thinking about the deep ball? How does that make you guys thrive with the run game and stuff?
COACH HOPE: It changes everything because the short game is predicated on the fear of the takeoff, and if the defense is not concerned about you getting behind them, then the short game becomes irrelevant. And also the same with your run game. Being able to get behind them and go deep and go vertical is really important to our football team. We need to make some more big plays. We’re having big plays out there. Our running backs are making great plays.
We’re really strong at the running back position, and our wideouts have made big plays. We need to make more big plays, and the vertical game gives us the potential to make big plays. A couple of more big plays in any one of our games could really have an impact. We need to make more big plays, and we’re going to take more shots downfield, absolutely. Teams are going to feel the pressure.
Q. Coach, statistically here, Caleb Terbush, 46 pass attempts last week, Robert Marve with 11. Safe to say Caleb is pulling away in this competition, or is it still —
COACH HOPE: No, there’s still competition. Obviously, Caleb is further ahead. Most of it is the result of reps. Having a chance to see the guy do it right in practice over and over again and putting the guy on stage that you’ve seen in practice. He’s had a lot more reps. Right now he’s playing very well, and so is Robert Marve.
We’re trying to get Robert in the game, and he’s done very well. I think we’re in good position now to have a guy, even though he’s No. 2 on the depth chart, that he can go in and impact the game immediately. I have a lot of confidence in Robert. The other day I put him in in the second quarter, and he manufactured a drive. We put him back in the game, and he threw some big strikes.
There was a point in time in the game where we had to make a decision. I wanted to stay on the field rather than kill the clock. With Robert in there the way he’s throwing strikes, we could take a couple of shots. Take a few immediate strokes and line up and kick the field goal before we take the lead. We were in a similar situation here at Ross-Ade against Ohio State, and we lined up and kicked a 52-yard field goal and generated some momentum, and I thought that impacted the game.
I saw the same opportunity on Saturday, and I was confident to have Robert Marve in there because we needed some strikes, them knowing we were probably going vertical. He throws a great vertical ball. I think he’s doing very well. Caleb is a little more efficient right now with the offense than Robert, but sometimes those numbers don’t come out. I’d like for Robert to play more. The more we play better on defense, the more Robert gets to play.
There’s a lot of things have minimized Robert’s playing time, injuries and a lot of things.
Q. What in particular was Ohio State able to do that makes them more powerful than Illinois, and what were they able to do differently against Illinois?
COACH HOPE: It came down to turnovers. Both teams really wanted to win. It was a fun game to watch on film. Really good football, and both teams showed up. Illinois turned it over a couple of times and gave Ohio State a short field, and that allowed them, with their strong running game, to manufacture touchdowns. In my mind, that was really the difference maker in the ball game. Both teams had a lot of good players, and they were flying around. They both played hard.
An unusual style to see a team out there throwing so little, but it didn’t matter in that ball game.
Q. How is Carson Wiggs doing from a mental standpoint? Last couple seemed to go wrong, a few more misses than usual. Is he still the same guy, or has something changed physically or mentally?
COACH HOPE: I think he’s the same guy. He’s like anyone else, he’s got a few off days. He’ll get a chance to kick again on this Saturday, and he’ll do really well.
It was really a windy day, very windy day, and you had to play the ball right. It was a very windy day, and you have to maybe change things a little bit. So maybe that got him out of sync some. There wasn’t any point in time where I didn’t feel like he was going to be able to make the next field goal. I felt like going into the game and even after halftime that it might get down to three or four more field goals to win the game because the way the wind was. Our offense did very well against the Penn State defense, but no one had hurt him with the football against him.
At no point in time was I concerned about Carson going in the tank and line up to kick the next field goal. That never crossed my mind, nor his either, I don’t believe. I told him, when things don’t go right, get ready because we need to kick three or four more field goals to win this ball game. That wasn’t a pep talk. It was reality. I thought that’s what it was going to come down to. We thought go in and play hard and play them close and our specialists would make the difference. And if we win the ball game in the end, it’s based on special teams.
Q. Coach, you saw Scheelhaase last year.
COACH HOPE: I remember him, that’s for sure.
Q. And what you’ve seen on film, is he better this season than last year? And if so, how?
COACH HOPE: I think he’s very similar. I think teams play him a little bit different so they don’t allow themselves to be exploited exactly the same way by him over and over again. He makes plays. He’s the difference maker on their football team. The people that he’s surrounded with are awfully good players, awfully good players, and they make him better, and he makes them better.
So the whole total package of it is a lot. He’s an exceptional player. He really is. His record speaks for itself.
Q. Kawann seemed like he had a good season last year, and it seems like he’s taking his game this season to a higher level. Do you see that, Danny, and what do you see that he’s doing and applying that he’s playing at a high level?
COACH HOPE: He absolutely has taken his game to another level. He has come a long way as a football player. He still has great potential ahead of him. He hasn’t tapped out yet. He’s a guy that’s learned to play harder on a more consistent basis, and that puts him in a position to make more plays. He’s more mature body-wise, carries his size a lot better, plays harder than he did this time last year.
He’s a very good leader. He’s one of the better leaders on our football team. He’s really emerged as a leader, and that’s encouraging. He’s a good player too. Sometimes that helps you be a good leader if you’re a good player too. I think everything about his game is improving. I think right now he’s really, really good. Over a period of time in the near future, he could become one of the better players in his position on a national level.
I think he’s a lot like Kerrigan was in his junior year when he was really coming on the scene and looked like he could be an awfully good player, maybe a guy that could be All-American status. And maybe next year, as he takes his game to another level, he’s a dominant player in his position on the national level. I think, if Kawann stays the course, he could be that kind of player in his position. Different position than Ryan, but I think he really could be outstanding.
Q. After watching the film, what do you see most from Ralph that you liked?
COACH HOPE: The same thing that I’ve seen from him all along. He’s really tough. He looks like he’s full speed. He’s very, very tough on his blocks. He did a good job of protecting the quarterback. That’s the thing that gives him the edge as you list him as being the No. 1 running back because he’s the best blocking running back we have on blitz pickup. I think Crank is doing a great job on fullback position, coming in and fitting up on linebackers.
But Ralph does a good job as a radar in backfield, picking up whatever the linemen miss, and he gets down the middle of it. It’s been really valuable from a blitz pickup standpoint. That’s the thing I’m most excited about. He’s playing to win. He’s been tough and courageous coming off of that knee. He looks very fast. I think he’s doing very well.
I think the other running back complements him some so Ralph doesn’t get worn down or banged up or start to deteriorate physically. Ralph is full speed. That’s good. A full speed Ralph is a good thing for our team.
THE MODERATOR: Anything else? Coach, thank you very much.