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Quoting the Cardinal

Dec 28, 2013

LOS ANGELES - Stanford's Willie Shaw Director of Defense Derek Mason and several student-athletes previewed the Rose Bowl Game while speaking to the media Saturday morning at The LA Hotel.

DEREK MASON: I'd like to thank the committee and the Rose Bowl for having us back. It's been a great journey, and this football team has worked extremely hard. We feel like we're well prepared, and we're looking forward to playing a great game versus Michigan State. With that being said, we'll open it up.

Coach Mason, you've had a couple newcomers this year like Josh Mauro and Wayne Lyons starting. What have they done this year, and who's sort of stood out to you, a new starter?

DEREK MASON: Well, I think as the season goes, you have ebb and flow. The one thing about this football team, when you talk about a guy like Josh Mauro, Josh Mauro has been around a long time. He's a fifth year senior. He's played a lot of football. I think sometimes with some of the big name guys on this defense, some guys are really unknown, but Josh has played great football in our run here over the last four years.

You look at Wayne Lyons, Wayne Lyons was a young man who actually played as a freshman and broke his foot second game into the season. That was three years ago. He missed that season, came back last year in a spot role and has played significantly this year just in terms of our run. But I think the biggest part of what we do and what's happened is guys like Usua and Ed, these guys have played a lot of football, they've passed a lot of information down to our young guys, and they've had a lot of information passed on to them, the Richard Shermans, the Mike Thomases, the guys that came before them passed information on to them, and these guys are going to pay it forward, so it's been great.

Coach Mason, what's the biggest misconception about your defense so far?

DEREK MASON: When you look at the numbers, and we talk about it all the time, numbers lie. We're one of the best run stop defenses in the country. We do a great job of trying to get off the field. I think sometimes when you stop the run you're going to see more passes, and because we see more passes than most teams, the misconception is we don't play great pass defense. This is what I'll say. We'll look at our numbers and compare our numbers to anybody's, but what it comes down to is wins and losses. We play the game to win. We go out there to compete. That's what we talk about. That's the end goal. Our guys have fun doing it. Our practices are spirited. It's very competitive. For us we're an old school blue collar team. That's it. I know Nerd Nation represents us well. That's who we are. We own that. That's part of the Stanford brand. But by the same token, we're a tough, physical, tough minded football team that loves to play the game, 60 minutes, 65 minutes, whatever you give us, that's what we'll play.

Coach Mason, can you tell me your thoughts on this Michigan State offense, what you've seen on tape so far?

DEREK MASON: You know what, I think I'll hand that over to Ed Reynolds and Usua because those guys, they've watched as much tape and film and spent as much time as anybody else.

USUA AMANAM: You know, watching film these last couple weeks, I like to draw a lot of similarities between them and Oregon State. They have the big play ability but they also have the great back. They have a great quarterback back there manning what they do on the offensive side. I think for us we just have to execute our game plan. They've got a bevy of wide receivers and they have a big O line, and their running back Langford can make some plays.

But I think Coach Mason, Coach Lance Anderson, Randy Hart, they've really put together a great game plan for us, and if we go out and execute it, I think we'll be fine. Ed?

ED REYNOLDS: You handled it. Usua has pretty much said it all. They have a really good back, like you said. He can make you miss. He likes to run behind his pads, and they have tall wide outs who can go up and make plays and the quarterback has the faith in them. They have a pretty athletic tight end, so just from watching film, Usua and I and the rest of the defense are just trying to pick up the tendencies so we can come out, and like you said, execute that game plan at a fast pace, just go out there and play hard.

You said your practices were very spirited. This is kind of for all you guys. What makes a Stanford practice different than another practice, Michigan State's or whoever's?

ED REYNOLDS: I think it's just the competitive spirit between guys. We're family when it comes to off the field and when it comes to playing against someone else. But when we step between the white lines of practice, I wouldn't say it's purely offense versus defense, but we definitely kind of have this competitive spirit where, OK, who's going to win this practice, especially when it comes to fall camp or during spring ball when the defense comes together and is trying to build its identity because it's a totally new defense when we move from one season to the next. Same thing with the offense.

From one on ones to the seven on sevens to the team periods, everyone is out there trying to hone their craft. And for us, having such great athletes on both sides of the ball, you really get a great look. I think it's just guys going out there trying to be better and make their teammates better. It's been great for us this season.

USUA AMANAM: I think just to piggy back off what Ed said. To compete at this high of a level, you really have to love the game. The one thing I've noticed in our locker room, even more so than other years, is how many guys really enjoy just going out and playing football. The coaches have made it a great environment for us to go out there and learn and play fast, like Ed said. In terms of spirited practices, I think that's really what it boils down to.

DEREK MASON: For us when we take a look at what practice looks like, there's certain elements of a practice that I like to see. The elder Coach Shaw talked to me a couple years ago about what your practices should look like. To me he said you have to liken it to being a movie director. What do you want to see from your actors? Well, for me when I look at a spirited practice, I want to see communication, okay, all the time, back end, front end. I want to make sure that those guys are communicating exactly what they see. I want to make sure we move fast, play fast. We want to make sure the execution is what we need it to be. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. But I'll tell you what, this season it's been really incredible to see this group of guys with limited expectations, and I'll be the first to say it, sometimes people don't get "it", that "it" about what happens here at Stanford. These guys don't come to Stanford to be good, they come here to be great. They want to play great football, not good football, so with that being said, those practices and what we do within those practices are held to a certain standard. If they don't meet it, they hear about it. If they meet it, we move on. That part of it has been fun.

We like it that way. These guys like it that way. So with that being said, that's what spirited means for us.

Usua, being the MVP of the game last year and a California kid, what does the Rose Bowl mean to you?

USUA AMANAM: You know, it's just a pleasure to be involved with the Rose Bowl Game once again. I think I always tell all my friends and family, the MVP award is a bit misleading because it takes an entire team to win a game and do what you're supposed to do. I think last year we played very well, but I don't even think about last year anymore. Our minds are set on this game on January 1, 2014, and I feel like we've prepared very well and we're excited to go out there and show everyone what we can do.

Coach Mason, halfway through the year you kind of had to move some guys over to defensive line with some injuries and some adversity there. How did that transition go, and it seemed like it was pretty seamless.

DEREK MASON: We talk about playing and having an opportunity to step up. We had to take a guy in Blake Lueders who was an outside backer and move him down. We had to make several changes up front. But the one thing about these guys, they're selfless. They don't care who, they don't care when. They just want the opportunity.

I think for those guys, again, a guy like Josh Mauro moves from his natural position outside and then has to jump inside and play nose. We've had to make several changes, and you know what, the one thing we talk about is no excuses, no explanations. We're not going to excuse bad play. These guys want the opportunity to step on the field and play, and that means doing your job. If you're undersized, that's okay. You need to fight, make sure you keep your hat in the crack and let's play.

Up front it's been pleasing and really rewarding for those guys because to start the season with a dominant front seven and then midway through lose guys like Ben Gardner along the way, we had a young guy by the name of Ikenna Nwafor who actually we lost early in the season, and you had Henry Anderson who was injured early and missed six games. For those guys to keep moving forward and to finish at the top of the Pac 12 in terms of rush defense and one of the tops in the country nationally in rush defense, it was phenomenal. But it's a testament to those guys and the work that was put in, because coaches coach and players play. Everything that happens, it happens between the white lines. I tell these guys all the time, when that happens, I'm about -- I'm almost a quarter of a mile upstairs calling plays. When these guys make it happen, it's a great thing, and I appreciate these guys. I love them all. I love every one of these guys.

Usua compared Michigan State to Oregon State. Would you guys agree, and what have you seen from Michigan State from the tape so far?

TRENT MURPHY: For Michigan State, to speak to kind of their style of play, I'm sure you've heard it already, but they play a physical run game especially, and then they kind of have to keep you honest with just enough explosive kind of gadget plays and shots down the field. It's definitely a pretty solid combination as far as what they're doing offensively, so it'll be a challenge for us.

A.J. TARPLEY: Yeah, they're a physical football team as he said. They're going to want to run the ball right at us, and that's what we're going to try and stop. They bring a well rounded attack to the table in terms of their backs, their wide receivers and their quarterback.

SHAYNE SKOV: I'm good. I'll wait for the next question.

A.J. what do you consider your biggest strength?

A.J. TARPLEY: My quickness. If I had to say one part about my game that's my biggest strength, I'd say it's my quickness. That's kind of how I set up everything else is based off that attribute.

Shayne, your whole look with the mohawk kind of became a Halloween costume for some people. Were you flattered or what did you think about that?

SHAYNE SKOV: It was definitely flattering. I think that we all love playing this game, and so we enjoy it all and kind of having the camaraderie with the fans is obviously awesome. To see kids kind of be impacted by what we do and kind of be an influence to them is an awesome feeling. I was very grateful for it, and it brought a smile to my face.

Linebacker is one of those positions where you guys are probably, outside of offensive linemen, are the most like family. How do you keep each other motivated and keep things light and enjoy your life as Stanford linebackers.

TRENT MURPHY: We kind of joke about it all the time, but we kind of poke fun at each other more than any other unit in the country for that matter. I think we can do that because of how close we are and how we are like a family. I think you can only joke so much with guys that you're comfortable with and you know they've got your back, even though they're giving you a hard time.

I think football has to be a fun game. You're supposed to enjoy it as much as we do it, but we keep it fun, keep it lighthearted and keep each other motivated by how hard we work, so I think it's a pretty solid combination.

SHAYNE SKOV: Yeah, no one is really safe in our meeting rooms. Somebody catches you doing something goofy on the way to class, something in practice, film, we're going to watch it a couple times. Yeah, I just think that in terms of the way we kind of express our brotherhood or a bond with one another, yeah, definitely I think we obviously are some of the hardest workers in the country, so that active, collective effort, and then also just joking with one another, it's a way brothers or guys kind of show affection for one another, that we really care about each other and we're a cohesive unit, and I think that's what makes us us.

A.J. TARPLEY: And just to add to that, our competitive nature. In the linebacking corps none of us are going to stand down to the other. We all want to play better than the next at the same time while rooting for each other, so it's a fun atmosphere.

Shayne, as you talk about the lighthearted brotherhood, I think it was you after the Oregon game that passed out the Nerd Nation glasses that people were wearing to the press conference afterward. How has that really taken off since then, and how does that play into the whole sort of lighthearted brotherhood deal?

SHAYNE SKOV: I think that we've got a lot of smart guys and kind of witty guys, so I think they're left with the jokes and I think the commentary in our locker room is kind of unique, and it makes for a lot of entertainment.

In respect to the Nerd Nation thing, it's something we've always kind of done. I remember when I first got here it was #revengeofthenerds because before anybody really knew who we were it was our way of fighting back. It's really blown up since we have been here. I think it started out as kind of a football and athletics thing, and to see it really carry on -- we take tremendous pride in hopefully kind of being the prime example and the paradigm of what a student athlete can be in terms of what we do academically and athletically. I think we take that very seriously, but at the same time we enjoy it and we want to embrace that kind of mantra and that attitude.

Trent, I heard you have an insane wing span. Can you elaborate, and what are the less obvious benefits?

TRENT MURPHY: The less obvious benefits. I mean, everyone in my family probably has like a three or four inch longer wing span than your height, and I think your wing span is typically right around your same height. I think the biggest benefit, you can talk to my teammates, but as far as pass rushing, they hate blocking me because a lot of times I'll just put my hands out on them and they are kind of waving their hands and can't reach me. As far as football goes, it's a huge benefit, especially batting down balls that quarterbacks are throwing right overhead on the line of scrimmage. They think they probably have a clear shot over me and I just bat it down. That's probably the biggest benefit. Nothing too weird.

What have you done to prepare for Michigan State? What makes them different than anybody else? You said they're kind of like Oregon State.

SHAYNE SKOV: I think that for us, I think the key point is that we always take pride in stopping the run. I think that's one of the first things in our kind of objectives, and they've successfully run the ball this year, so I think that's the very first challenge for us. At the same time they've done it in various personnel groups and I think they do a good job of moving all the pieces to keep you on your toes from a schematic standpoint?

Second, as Murph already said, they do a great job with explosive play action plays, gadget plays. So I think between the two, if you're unable to effectively stop them running the ball, it makes it very difficult because you have to play more aggressively and then they beat you down the field.

I think for us we've just kind of been -- in bowl games you have so much free time you can't really account for all the unknown variables and what they're going to do and not going to do. I think we've been keying in on making sure we are focused and polished on what we do. If the back side guy is on contain, don't pursue the ball too hard, the safeties stay in coverage, so we don't get beat on great play action or trick plays. So I think it's that kind of mentality focusing on what we do and kind of polishes those rough edges has been really important for us.

If you guys are the defensive fort, what's the strongest part of the fort, back end, front end, coaching?

TRENT MURPHY: The whole thing. We're just strong everywhere. I think that's our strongest asset. Seriously, though, the front seven often times gets most of the credit for everything that's going on, but we would be nothing without our secondary and sometimes those guys get overlooked, but Jordan, Richards, Ed Reynolds, Usua Amanam, Alex Carter who's still a young guy but they're all phenomenal players that are kind of the glue that holds this defense together, playing top down and not letting those explosive plays happen and making the quarterback hold the ball, and that's a lot of times why we get home. That's my answer.

A.J. TARPLEY: Just to add to that, in terms of our entire fort, the whole defense. Our defensive backs, people pick on them for pass yardage per game, but they are involved just as much in the run game as we are, because they have their run fits, so there's a safety coming down or a corner playing the flat. But those guys, we feel that they've tackled as well as any unit in the country in terms of defensive backs, and they play physical football just like we do every front, and that's what's been able to hold us together.

Shayne, as the emotional and verbal leader on this football team, who do you think is the silent leader?

SHAYNE SKOV: I think a lot of times I get too much credit for the leadership. It's really a collective effort. I talk a lot, so that's probably part of the reason why. But I think Murph, nobody will ever question anything Murph says. I think what he says carries tremendous weight when he speaks, and at the same time the way our team is built is we've got a lot of older guys and a lot of mature guys on this team, so I think that it's not about one or two guys, it's really about everybody kind of working together. The fact that we kind of have an open locker room, we have an open defense, if somebody feels something is going the wrong way, everybody has the chance to speak, so I think that's the key to our success.

You guys got the Beef Bowl tonight, any sort of approach that's different this year? You kind of know what you're getting yourself into?

SHAYNE SKOV: I think we probably are going to not eat too much because I think we watched some guys last year after eating at the Beef Bowl practice and struggle the day after. We will be anxiously watching Josh Barnett. What did he have, six plates last year, six prime ribs? We'll try to see if he can surpass his total from last year. But I think more than anything as we've come back for a second year, we're going to enjoy ourselves, enjoy the food because it's great, but at the same time not overeat.

I wanted to ask you about your perception of this program before this latest run. It was a place you couldn't win, but every four years with a great senior. How has that changed? And your other coaching staff, what was your perception of Stanford football when you think back 10 years, you were in a different place? You know, I've watched Stanford when I was at Saint Mary's College. That was a while ago, early 2000s. I thought it was a great place with great tradition.

And I watched from afar, had a chance to go over and visit a campus a couple of times. Had a couple of friends coaching at Stanford at the time, George McDonald, who is now at Syracuse, offensive coordinator. We talked, and he said this place could be special.

Fast forward, I met the Minnesota Vikings. I get a call from Jim Harbaugh, and Jim said we'd like you to come out and take a look at our place and we think you're the guy.

I came out, took a look, Vic Fangio convinced me that we could be successful. And you know what it started with, Jim's mentality in terms of what the foundation was, what it was going to be. Vic Fangio did a great job of trying to establish some defensive presence at Stanford.

Stanford's always been -- it's that defensive run, but primarily been known as an offensive school. I think with what Vic did, you know, it was the first piece in terms of the foundation being laid for what we wanted to do.

We wanted to play great defense to complement what we were doing offensively. And I think as each year's gone by, I think what we've been able to instill in our kids, both through recruiting a certain type of kid and by establishing a certain -- a certain mindset, a certain way, a certain standard in terms of how we want to play, what we want to look like, it's been able to happen.

You know what? Imagery is important. What you see yourself doing is what you become. That's what we talk to our guys about all the time, are you what you say you are. And with that, it's got to be more than just words. It has to be actions, because you can say a lot of things. But it's all about the work.

And Coach Shaw talks about it all the time. Fast forward to his regime and what happened under him, which has been a little different than Coach Harbaugh, but it's added on to it just in terms of the things that we want to be about, the things that we try to aspire to.

And I think with each year it's gotten better, gotten better from guys that left the program. Good players have left our program and went on to do great things, but good players who were actually behind those guys have come along to do great things as well. And I think that's a testament to the guys that can't be formed, but it's also a testament how hard these guys work. It's a mindset. It's a culture.

Some of these guys are saying even in high school they thought Stanford was in the Ivy League, looking around saying you guys play USC, see the opposing Pac 12 flag. What has kind of been that sales pitch in that to get kids to Stanford, to take a chance? And now obviously they see the success. The initial sale was great education and playing outstanding football. It's hard. You can't go anyplace else than to challenge yourself and find yourself playing great football.

We knew we were on the cusp. We had a great quarterback in Andrew in terms of what was there. And football nowadays is built around the quarterback position. I don't care. College NFL doesn't matter. It's built around the quarterback position. When you have a great quarterback and you're coming off a Bowl -- I think the first Bowl game was the year before I got there. They played down in El Paso versus Oklahoma. And I think that was the first tipping point just in terms of being able to get kids to realize, you know what, Stanford can play in Bowl games. We can do this.

When you went out and you sought out kids because we can only recruit a certain portion of the population. We went out to recruit and we found that kids actually watched the Bowl game. Kids were interested in -- parents were interested obviously in a great education, but kids want to see themselves winning.

So we were able to sell what we had in terms of good players already in the program, who they were, where they came from. And that first class that I was involved with when you had a Wayne Lyons, a James Vaughters, and there were some other offensive players like Ty Montgomery and some of those other guys that were involved in that class, you looked up and these were athletes unlike guys that they had had in a couple of years at Stanford.

But slowly but surely they manifest themselves because those guys start to tie into one another. They wanted to play with good players like the Andrus Peats and the Kyle Murphies. Those guys wanted to play with good players.

I think part of it was the education was good, but if these guys don't see themselves playing winning football, they're not going to come. They saw themselves playing winning football and they saw themselves playing with those guys.

So with that being in place, sort of snowballed. Guys just started to talk and they felt comfortable about one another. Barry Sanders jumped on board with Andrus, and young men like Jameis Winston actually was tied to that group. These guys wanted to play together.

So I think that's really what you've seen over the last couple of years, is that the winning has added to it. It's made us viable and relevant. But I think more than anything else, these guys see themselves playing with those guys. They see themselves being the next Richard Sherman. They see themselves being the guy who can be like Mike Thomas or be like Andrew Luck or be like Griff Whalen or like being like Stepfan.

We've had guy after guy after guy -- they may not be big name guys -- but we've had enough good players to go on and make names for themselves.

What percentage of the eligible student athlete population are you guys able to go after? One percent.

Really? One percent. One percent, if that.

It's that small? Yeah, it's that small.

Kids may go to 1 percent of those, kids can go to any other state school, you can go after them? Yes. That's state school, private schools. The standard at Stanford is high.

One percent of the eligible ... That's right. That's right. That's what we're looking at.

What was the situation with the Vikings when you left to come to Stanford, you were a secondary coach? Assistant secondary coach. Joe Woods. We had just come off the NFC championship game.

You could have stayed? Could have stayed.

What was going through your head? You could have stayed in the NFL. Why were you -- what triggered you to take the Stanford job? You know what, I tell you what, anybody who has been around Jim Harbaugh knows he can sell anything. It was the opportunity to talk to Jim about how he saw that program.

It really was. And then Vic -- Vic really helped me understand what he was trying to do. My roots are in 3 4 defense. Minnesota was 4 3. I coached them both. But for me in seeing what Vic had done, like at other places, it actually rejuvenated me a little bit just in terms of thinking maybe, because they talked to me about the talent that was here.

They talked about Richard and they talked about Delano Howell and Mike Thomas and Jonathan Bademosi and Austin Yancy. These guys were -- you know, I'm in a group of guys -- I think when I got there, we were towards the bottom in terms of the pass defense. And I think those numbers lie anyway.

But it was a group that was ripe, smart, and athletic. Just meeting some of those guys on my visit, it really helped me understand that those guys had high football IQ. I asked the questions. I asked: Why do you play football? Do you love it? What do you see yourself doing? How can I help you? What does winning football look like to you? They ask questions.

The thing about that trip was they asked questions of me that just blew me out of the water.

Like what? Like, okay, talk to me about what you know. How can you make me better? In terms of skill set, okay, what does the skill set of a good DB look like? In terms of being able to be a good tackler and play in the secondary that doesn't give up big plays. What does that look like? Tell me what it looks like.

Richard asked me those exact questions. Mike Thomas echoed some of the same sentiments. They wanted to know.

We were standing there for about an hour and a half just talking. And what it came down to is these guys were bright guys, smart guys. They were just looking for something.

And I didn't know if I was the guy, but, you know what, I'm like anybody else, I like a challenge. And the challenge was there. Minnesota I thought was going to go on to do great things with or without me. It didn't matter. I was just a guy that was part of a good football team.

What did Vic tell you personally when he left to go to the 49ers? Did he give you any particular advice? He did: Don't screw it up. No, Vic was good. He said, Listen, it should be you. You're different than me. You know what I know. You understand 3 4 structure. You're going to do it a little different than me. But don't get caught up in trying to be who I am and do the things I did.

He goes, my experiences, you know, come from years. And he goes, for you, you're going to make some great calls along the way and you're going to make some bad calls along the way. He said, just grow. Just grow and you'll fill in those shoes real quick.

How long did it take for you to really put your stamp on the defense? I think probably two years because I think everybody had the idea when me and J.T. were working together that there were certain things J.T. did and certain things that I did.

So of course working with Dick and working with J.T., it probably took two years. It probably took when J.T. being at the Raiders and us going on to do some things last year to really validate some of the things that we were trying to do.

But I'll tell you what, it's not really about me. I know what I'm trying to get done. I couldn't do it without the defensive staff.

When you talk about David Kotulski, he taught me 3 4 defense. He was the defensive coordinator at Bucknell University when I went there in 1997 as an offensive guy. He asked me to come over, coach defense. From there he proceeded to teach me everything I knew about 3 4 structure, what the outside backers do, what the inside backers do, what it looks like on the back end.

And Lance Anderson was with us the whole time, was with me at Idaho State when I was there, then he came to Bucknell. So we were all the same family, same family tree. Lance was already here at Stanford. That's part of the reason I came, because Lance and I coached together for eight years. So to me it was all about family. David Shaw, myself, and Lance were together at Idaho state.

So when you look at it, it's been a family for a long time. So I think it's about coaching with guys you want to coach with. But more to your point about what happened -- when did I really start to feel that it was ours and mine and starting to own it a little bit was really after last season.

Going through that first year.

Then? Yeah. Yeah, because you go through it. You think about the Fiesta Bowl. I learned a lot coming out of the Fiesta Bowl in terms of the matchups, making some decisions about how we matched up.

And coming back off of that I understood that you could be a good secondary coach, but it's not about being a good secondary coach if you're trying to coordinate a defense, it's about being a great defensive coordinator to put all your guys in position to be able to be successful.

What kind of cornerback were you at Northern Arizona? You know what, I felt like I was tough. I felt like I was tough. I felt like I was physical. I felt like I competed all the time. I felt like because of my size I played a little bit like Ronnie Harris, big chip on my shoulder, mad all the time, mad at everybody. Mad at receivers, tight ends, so I played angry.

Do you coach with that attitude too? I do, absolutely I coach with a chip on my shoulder. I want these guys to be the best. There's not a day that goes by that my head hits the pillow that I'm not thinking of how we can get better, how these guys can get better, because that's what they came here to do.

Trent was talking about that even after good teams find a way about themselves. What's some of the mantras and things that you say that are part of what Stanford defensive is about? Do. One of them. Do your job so the ten other guys you're playing with can do theirs. Making sure for us that we stop the run, defend the pass. Stop the run. I mean, you're always talking about making the team one dimensional. And if you can stop the run and you can dictate, the opportunity for you guys to pass rush, that's what most guys up front want to do.

And the Oregon Rivalry? That started with Oregon two years ago. We felt like after playing Oregon, having been here two years and played Oregon, you know, we had done some good things, played well in spurts, for quarters. But the thing that we kept watching on film is that if you don't beat yourself, you can get these guys to deep water. You can get them into the fourth quarter.

And nobody had done that. Nobody had taken them to deep water. A shark takes its prey in the deep water. That's what we wanted to try to do, is drag Oregon into the fourth quarter and get them in a tight game and let's see who is going to be the better team, stronger team.

And that's what the off season and Shannon Turley does with these guys.

What about Michigan State? When I look at Michigan State, I'm facing a former teammate of mine and quarterbacks coach, Coach Salem. We played together at Northern Arizona, him and his twin. We came in together; we left together. And we talked all season. We talked.

This season? This season we talked all season up until two weeks ago. So we have history. We know each other well.

I think in this ballgame it's going to come down to the team that makes the least amount of mistakes. You're talking about an offensive unit that's gotten better, I mean, every week. And the quarterback, they started out playing three quarterbacks, and then they whittled it down to one.

And what you see from the quarterback position is ball security. He takes care of the football. And they do a great job of distributing the football through play action because they can run the ball so well, which looks like Wisconsin, which looks like us, to a certain degree.

And they keep the quarterback moving on different platforms so you can't just hone in on where he's going to be. It's not three steps. It's not just five steps. It's a lot of play action, boot, roll, along with screens, and a sound run game, with a lot of end over UFO tackle over to really get your eyes moving.

So they do a lot of shifts and motions to really get your eyes moving, and then they try to get you misaligned with numbers. And we played that game versus several teams. But nobody to this point probably as good as Michigan State.

How are you planning for that? You know, really, those things happen at such a fast clip. I think the biggest thing for us is just making sure we get ourselves lined up and giving our guys a call -- we say this defensively. We don't care what we call, as long as we have 11 guys playing it, we think we've got a chance.

And at times this year and other seasons when we didn't get lined up, that's when we got hurt. When we get lined up we're pretty good, because like our inside backers, Tarpley and Shane Scov, very instinctive. They understand the snap count and they know backfield sets. They understand these things because we talk about them every week.

And so for our guys to get lined up, to see what was happening in front of them and to be able to react to the situation, I think that's what we see time and time again in terms of opportunities. Now, in that particular case, you look at us on the fourth and two.

Are you thinking they're going to go to their best player in that situation? I thought they were going to go to their best player. We had a double on Marqise Lee. And Shane moves over. He's seen something that tells him to trigger. So he triggers and we're not able to squeeze.

But you know what, I tell our guys all the time: When you get between the white lines, you play. I coach. I’ll tell you what, we've made more fourth down stops than we missed. And so to look at that game for me, I mean, I remember the year before being at SC or two years prior to that being down at SC and Clarence Stevens being able to jar a ball loose, the ball comes loose and Tarpley scoops it up and we win in a similar situation. So I think we don't excuse it. We just say at the end of the day they did a good job.

We thought the ball was going to Marqise. So we called the double, but we just weren't able to squeeze it fast enough. So I put that on me. I never put that like on the players because we work on those things and a great player made a great play.

Has this been a bit of a unique challenge for you in that every single team you played has changed their style just to kind of beat your defense. Have you seen that before? Absolutely.

As a coach, how do you ... It's been tough from the standpoint -- it's tough from the standpoint you go into a game plan, you look at what your game plan is and you say, okay, here's what we're going to do. We're going to set the game plan. We're going to go play. Here's what happened. We've gone into at least nine games here where offenses have done the exact opposite or moved far away from those tendencies.

And what we've had to do is end game adjust, and our guys do it as good as anybody. We fell behind in a couple of games where we had quick scores on us and we had to come to the sideline and make adjustments.

You know what? Our guys don't panic. That's the great thing about these guys. They've been in stressful situations before, so they don't -- they don't flinch. They deal with stress well. And so we make the adjustments. They go play, and then we move on to the next thing and then we see our guys sitting on the other side of it like in the end.

So I'm proud of these guys. This group has been unlike any other group, because the groups before them haven't had to face that. That's why I said this group.

Do you think they will be prepared? They will. Absolutely. Absolutely. When you have three weeks to prepare, we're going to see everything under the sun.