Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Joe Pa talks

With Buffalo falling between Notre Dame and Michigan, are you at all concerned about the focus of your team?

Sure I am. But when you look at the Buffalo team, you know, you guys see it's Buffalo. You don't see some things that we see. They're doing a really good job up there. They lost to Rutgers, but they manhandled Temple. I think Temple…they've got a really good coaching group, and I think they're working their way into being a good football team.
I was shocked that Buffalo handled Temple the way they did. So, you’ve got to be realistic. But we talk all the time about how we've got to get better. We've got to be more consistent.
We didn't play really that well over a long period of time against Notre Dame. We had a lot of mistakes. We didn't line up properly a lot of times on defense. Notre Dame limited their offense because I think of their freshman quarterback and because of the fans, the crowd.
I think we can put it all in perspective, and I think that's what the job will be this week.

Your special teams have produced a lot of big plays in the first two games. Could you evaluate their performance overall? From a coaching standpoint, have you done anything differently in terms of preparation this year with the special teams?

No, the same people are coaching. Ron Vanderlinden has the punt returns and Larry Johnson is coaching the punters. Mike McQueary has the field goal kickers. Bill Kenney has the kickoff returns. Brian Norwood has the kickoff coverage. That's the way we've always had it.
I think we were challenged because of the new rule with the kickoff, where you move the ball back to the 30, that we better make sure we don't get a little careless there because we're going to give up a lot of field position.
And then, also the fact that we might have to do a little better job with the return game. We have some people who can run and we wanted to do that, so we may have spent a little bit more time on the kicking game. But the same people are doing it. The same people are putting the schemes together. I've been pleased.
Again, you guys look at all the positives; I have to look at the negatives. We had too many penalties on some kicking plays that bother me. Some judgment, blocking in the back, roughing the kicker…those kinds of things.
In a game that went the way it went against Notre Dame it didn't bother us that much, but it's going to come down the road if we don't eliminate that. It will hurt us.

You were talking about you said you have to look at the negatives on some things. I was wondering, with your running game, 68 yards in the first half, 332 in the second half, I was wondering what the films have shown you?

It's a young offensive line. I think that's what it shows us. It shows us the minute there's something that goes on that is a little different, something that makes them a little bit hesitant to come off the football, they get a little bit unaggressive.
At halftime when we have an opportunity to say, “Look, this is the way it's going to go, and so forth.” I think they show their physical ability.
It's not a big league offensive line yet, but there's a lot of good athletes on it. When they're comfortable, they can do a good job. But, the first two games were two different defensive schemes, and I think we struggled a little bit in the first half to get comfortable.
When we were able to go in there at halftime and say, “This is what the problem is. Here is this, and we're going to settle down with three or four running plays. You guys just got to take off.” I think then we were able to do a little better job.
But I think that's going to be a problem for us for awhile, until we get a little bit more ‑‑ there's only one senior on our offensive line, John Shaw. The rest of them all haven't played a lot. (Gerald) Cadogan has played more than anybody. But it's kind of just the other guy's doing a good job. Until we get it settled down, we have a chance to be effective.

You had said one of the areas of emphasis before the season was improving the Red Zone rate of success. You've done that. What things have made that possible?

I think we've eliminated a lot of things that hurt us in the Red Zone a year ago. People jumping off‑sides on the one yard line…although we almost hurt ourselves again this past week with people doing things that pushed us back.
But I think the wideouts have been a little bit more aware where they are. I think (Anthony) Morelli is doing a much better job down there, picking out the right guy. We're more comfortable with a couple of things down there because of the fact that we have the wideouts and we have Morelli, who is now becoming a fine quarterback. I think that combination has helped.
Not much in the way of new plays or anything like that. I don't think that's it. We haven't changed a lot of plays.

How has Andrew Quarless handled himself in practice the past two weeks? Does he have a chance to see the field on Saturday?

Both Willie Harriott and Andrew took the procedure, we asked them to go over on the scout teams, make a contribution to the football team that way, have done a really good job. Both of them will have a chance to play this week.
I'm not sure how much either one of them will play. But if they don't play it will not be because of the fact there's any disciplinary background to it. I think I've told the squad right after the game, if they're ready to play, we're going to play 'em.
But, they've got to make their place now. I think for me to come in here and say, Hey, Quarless is all set, and with the way Mickey Shuler has played, (Jordan) Lyons has played, I think it would be unfair to them.
But Andrew, both he and Willie did a great job and went at it, tried to make us a better football team. Now I think they can compete to play.

How would you assess the way the defensive line has progressed through the first two games?


I think pretty good. There again, lineups, little things, we're not there yet. I'd love to tell you, “yeah, hey, we were great.” We weren't very good. We weren't great. Notre Dame has got some problems. They didn't challenge us, really. So I think they're doing okay, but we've got a ways to go.

I noticed John Shaw was taken out of the game at some point on Saturday. Was he just not playing well? Was he injured? Either way, what's his status for this weekend coming up?

No, John's had a knee, he's really not a hundred percent. And sometimes he can't do some things as well as you'd like him to do it because he favors the knee. He knows what he's doing. He'll play this week. I'd love to be able to keep him out for a while, but I don't know who to put behind him right now. (Lou) Eliades, who would have been our third guard, got a concussion and wasn't allowed to play last week. They let him do some things yesterday. Whether they let him do any contact today or not, I don't know.
So, John's played on a bad knee. He's a tough kid, and you wouldn't know it, but every once in a while when you try to see him do some things you realize he's favoring that knee a little bit.
But he was taken out of the game because a couple of things have gone in there that he did not handle well. I think part of it was because of his knee.

You've had the opportunity to coach against Turner Gill as both a player and as a coach. What do you remember of him as a player and what do you know about him as a coach?

Well, I can only tell you as a player. He was one heck of a player. He played on a couple of the great Nebraska teams. He's a real class guy, the couple times I've been around him.
As a coach, again, this is the first time I've really looked at his team. I think he's done a great job with this club. Rutgers is a good football team. It was an up and down ‑‑ I don't know exactly how you would describe it, but it was not a game you could really concentrate on any kind of consistency or flow, that kind of thing. Rutgers pretty much could do some things on offense that kept Buffalo trying to catch up in some ways.
But against Temple, they were precise. The quarterback at Buffalo is really good. They have a very cleaver two tight‑end offense as well as a spread offense. I think he's doing a really good job.
That's not an easy job up there. They've not had a lot of tradition in their football program. He's kind of turning that around.
I think you'd have to give him good marks on his coaching. I've only ever watched two games he coached, so it's hard for me to tell you, but I think he's doing a good job.

You talked earlier about focus the team. Is it easier now for coaches to preach against issues like losing focus and overconfidence after what happened to Michigan?

I imagine you're referring to the Appalachian State -Michigan game. Yes, I think it's easier. It depends on who's on your team. If you’ve got a bunch of silly kids that think they're so good nobody can beat 'em…and I'm not saying that's what happened with Michigan, because I think Appalachian is a lot better football team than people realize. They're very clever, well‑coached.
Obviously they’re well‑coached because they had won two Division I‑AA championships in a row. In fact, they remind me very much of Jim Tressel at Ohio State, because Jim had won a couple of them at Youngstown. Jerry (Moore) has done that, and done it well.
I think it helps. But I don't want anybody to think that Appalachian was a mystery. That's a good football team. They're a good team. I think that all of us have to understand that there's an awful lot of good football players who don't go to Division I‑A schools or don't go to the name schools who are certainly kids of quality, kids who can play, kids who are smart, the whole bit.
When they get an opportunity to play in the spotlight as opposed to where they're playing before 20,000 or 25,000, when they go in there and play before the kind of crowds we're talking about, I think they're energized. I think all of us would be the same way. “Hey, here's my shot. Here's my shot in the limelight.”
I think unless you're stupid or so silly you think you're that good and you don't have to get ready, you don't have to be prepared and you don't have to play hard against clubs, kids who have those kinds of aspirations, then you're going to get licked.
I think that's been true for a lot of peers. We got licked by Toledo a couple years ago. Some of you may forget that. I don't. Toledo kicked our ears in right here in Beaver Stadium. I don't mean beat us, they kicked our ears in. They manhandled us.
I think you've always got to be ready for a bunch of kids that are on a mission.

Jeremy Boone earlier talked about how the coaches have stressed field position with him. He's done a pretty good job right off the bat punting the football. Could you talk about his progress.

Well, you guys see him kick. I think he's done a good job kicking. He had the one kick that was ‑‑ whether it was partially blocked or whether he was harassed, I don't know. Boone, for a kid that's never played in a game, is a walk‑on, has done an excellent job.

After the atmosphere you had for the game last weekend, is there any chance we would see a Notre Dame-Penn State rivalry down the road pick up again every year?

You're talking to the wrong guy about that. I really have very little to do with scheduling. Tim Curley has enough problems without having a coach who won't be here 10 years from now when you're scheduling, telling him who you have to schedule.
It's a hard job. When we went to 12 games it kind of changed the whole environment of who you play, who you don't play. We've gone to the situation where we have to have seven home games because football has to support a lot of things.
I don't know. I think that would be up to ‑‑ a question you could ask Tim Curley, but it wouldn't happen for a long time. Maybe 10 years from now we might be able to get Notre Dame back on, I don't know.
The football world right now is really in flux, particularly, you know, there's ‑‑ does the Big Ten go to 12 teams, does it go to round‑robin? Does it do this? Does it do that? There are a lot of things being discussed that will have some bearing on who we're going to play.
Then, we're under a tremendous amount of pressure. I say "we," but it doesn't bother me as much as it has to bother Tim and Fran (Ganter) in the sense that people said, “Play your old rivalries,” so we got Syracuse. We haven't played Syracuse in a long time.
When we scheduled Syracuse, they just came off a 10‑2 year. They had a Penn State kid coaching up there, Paul Pasqualoni. That looked like a good arrangement. Some people say, “Why don't you play Nebraska?” So now we’ve got Nebraska on our schedule in the future.
I mean, that's the way it goes. We're working with Virginia on a schedule because we have some connections with Virginia. Pitt would like to play us, and we would like to play Pitt. But we can't play Pitt home-and-home because we wouldn't end up with seven home games. There's a lot of things that go into it.
Whether Notre Dame factors into that and we end up playing Notre Dame, really, I don't know. If they come to me and say, Hey, we want to play Notre Dame in 2014, what do you think? “Yeah, I might like to watch that game (laughter). Who's going to be the head coach?”

Dan Connor has had a very strong start. Could you talk about his evolution as a player, where you think he may fit in the pantheon in Penn State linebackers?

Pantheon, is that the word you used? Back to my Greek days (laughter).

No, I'd never compare kids one against the other. I don't think that's fair. I've been asked many times, “Who is the best back you ever coached? Who is this? Who is that?” I always remember how upset I was when my coach at Brown was asked, “Who was the best player you ever coached at Brown?” He mentioned a guy, and he didn't mention me. I was always mad at Rip (Engle) for three years until he hired me (laughter). I don't like to compare.
Dan Connor is a fine linebacker. I think he's one of the better linebackers in the country. He certainly has been one of the quality linebackers we've had at Penn State. He plays every play tough. He plays the pass well. Plays the run well. He can rush a passer. He can do all the things you'd want in a good linebacker. So I think he's a real big‑league linebacker.
Where he is in the pantheon? I don't think he would know what you mean by pantheon, okay? (laughter)

Can you give an update on the status of the defensive tackles (Abe) Koroma and (Tom) McEowen?

They're telling me three, four more weeks with Abe. McEowen is okay. He's practicing, but he's a little bit tentative. He's wearing a brace, a knee brace. He fell behind the kids that are playing. But he's going to be a good football player, as is Abe.
But Abe can't practice yet. McEowen is practicing. He'll be making a run at it pretty quick.

A couple of defensive players this morning talked about how much the coaches stress to them to strive for perfection on every play. How much do you talk about that on both sides of the ball? What does "perfection" mean for you?

Oh, boy. You know, I wish I could ‑‑ we're trying to get better. Perfection, you're never going to be perfect. You're just not going to be. The other guy does something, the other guy... You know, you guys, your competition is a piece of paper and a pencil, okay? Maybe you're going to write a perfect story.
You can go back and look it over and say, I think I can eliminate two words here. You can't do that when you're a football player. You're out there and it goes like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.
I don't think anybody ever plays a perfect game. And all we're trying to tell them is, “Get better, get better, pay attention to details, understand what wins and loses game, don't make a mistake that's going to lose the game.
“When you get a chance to make the big play that's going to win the game, go get it, go do it, don't be afraid to take the chance.” There's a lot of things that go into the way you coach. But I don't think you ever coach a team, we're going to be perfect today.
In fact, most of the time I say, “Now, look, be aggressive, go after it. If you make a mistake, don't worry about it, forget it, go on to the next play. If you sit around and moan about the fact you dropped the pass, made a mistake, missed the tackle, blocked the wrong guy, you start thinking about it, you're going to make another mistake 'cause you can't correct it.”
So it's a little different world. We're trying to get better, alright? We're on these kids all the time to get better, make them more aware what it's going to take in a tough football game. We haven't been in a tough football game yet. We just haven't. We haven't been down there where we've got to do some things under a tremendous amount of pressure. We won't know how good we are until we do it.

Before the season started, Lloyd Carr talked about how much he admired you for the way you handled the adversity you went through here a couple years ago. Do you have any advice for him in light of the adversity he's experiencing now?

I was going to call Lloyd. If we weren't going to play him a week from now I probably would have called him and said, “You've been a real credit to Michigan. The people that really understand who you are, what you've done, they'll be there if you need it.”
I think most of us saw that interview that was on one of those Saturday night re-hashing of the games where he said, “You know, I'm a tough guy.” And I talked to the staff the next day and I said, “A couple years ago we were like this.” As a matter of fact, a couple of guys that wanted me to retire were the first guys in the locker room after the game Saturday with big smiles on their faces.
He's a tough guy. He'll be fine. He's got some good football players. They've had some things that haven't gone his way. I think when it's all said and done, Lloyd Carr, he doesn't need me.

You talked about the empowerment of your staff. Do you still call the timeouts? Is that something those guys work together now?

What happened upstairs is they thought we didn't have a timeout. Simple as that. I knew we had another timeout. When I tried to call a timeout, two guys upstairs said, “We don't have one.” I said, “Yeah, we do.” So sometimes there's a miscommunication. But I called the timeout.

You mentioned Pitt. If Pitt would agree to a 6‑4 over 10 years, would you be in favor of that?

I think that's Tim Curley's call. I think if we could play Pitt under terms that would be good ‑‑ you know, the last time we went to Pitt you had to buy three tickets (to get a Penn State ticket). They charge much more money from our fans. A whole different attitude.
You don't realize, when I first came here, we didn't play Pitt (in State College) but more than three times in 15 years. I have no problem playing Pitt. But I think if they could get a home-and-home with Pitt, still get seven home games, still do all the things that are going to have to be done, I think it would probably be good.
I recruited western Pennsylvania for 15 years as an assistant coach. I still have girlfriends out there that want tickets. They need canes to get there, but... (laughter). They wondered if I could get them up in an elevator, upstairs. Other than that, why... I don't know, that's another ‑‑ I think that's just a question you want to get ‑‑ you just want to cause trouble with (laughter).

I wanted to ask you about Kevin Kelly. What are your impressions of his performance so far this season? You mentioned the new 30‑yard kickoff rule. Have you noticed any ways his approach to the game has changed?

I think he's done a great job, he really has. To be frank with you, I was worried about our kickoff game. We pretty much challenged him all pre‑season. He had to be a more accurate field goal kicker and had to be able to get that football down in the end zone. And not in a line drive. I think he's done that very well.
I think our kicking game has been good. You know, it's two games. We have 10 more games. I'm a little bit reluctant to get into “this good or that good, or not that good.” I think up to now Kelly has done a good job, as has the other kid, (Jeremy) Boone.

You mentioned before about the kickoffs being back five yards. There have been mixed reviews on that, largely from the smaller schools who are a little concerned when they play the bigger schools, there's such a size difference there. Do you have a feeling either way? Are you happy with where the kickoff is now compared to where it was?

Having enough people on special teams? I really hadn't thought about it. I think each school is different. I thought when we played Florida International, I was just as worried about their return game as anybody. They had a guy that was ranked very highly in the country a year ago running back kickoffs.
We spent an awful lot of time (on kickoffs). That may have been a great thing for us. We were so concerned about him that we emphasized the kickoff on it. I think you can't just generalize. I can't tell you, Yeah, small schools don't have this or that. I thought Florida International had a really good return game on it.
I think every week it's a different proposition.

Coach, you mentioned Jeremy Boone playing well as a walk‑on. Brendan Perretta was a walk‑on, Ethan Kilmer was a walk‑on. What kind of things does the coaching staff look for when a walk‑on is trying out for the team? How tough is it for one of those guys to make the team?

The other kid (Josh) Hull, from down the valley (Penns Valley), was a walk‑on. Good football player. We have others. (Patrick) Weber was a walk‑on. Other kids have come here as walk‑ons, have come through.
Well, sometimes when you're recruiting them, you just don't have a scholarship. You try to be frank with them and say, “Look, we'd like to have you. We think you're a good enough player to eventually play at a school such as Penn State. If you're willing to give it a shot, we'd love to have you.
We promise that if you turn out to be good enough, it won't make any difference whether you have a scholarship or you don't have a scholarship. We'll play you if you're the best. When we can, when there's some aid available, we'll try to put you in a preferential position as opposed to bringing somebody else in.” That's basically what we do.
Now, every once in a while, somebody, one of the coaches, maybe a kid who played for me, a son or an alumnus will call up and say, “Hey, how about my kid as a walk‑on? I say, “He really ought to go someplace else. He's not going to be able to compete here.”
I don't think you're being fair to kids to just bring them in if they really want to play. We've had a couple of kids that were close. One is a good player for us. One went to West Point. One went to Lehigh. They would have loved to come here and be part of it, but they wanted to play. I just really, and the staff, couldn't honestly feel that they were able to play here.
But, you know, we told them that. If they wanted to come, fine. We've had kids do that, even though we told them we didn't think they would eventually play. Sometimes we've been wrong. We just try to be fair.
So we treat them just like we do recruits that we give scholarships to. We try to examine them, get a background on them, find out what their potential is, look at our roster, “where does this kid fit in?” We treat them the same way.
They have that fancy term now "preferred walk‑on." I'm not sure what a "preferred walk‑on" is. One of these days I'm going to put together a glossary. Grayshirt, redshirt, whiteshirt, blackshirt, preferred walk‑on, not preferred walk‑on..

You use the fullback a lot less than you used to. Is that position kind of becoming phased out throughout the college game?

Well, that may be too strong an evaluation of it when you say "phased out." I think there's always going to be a place for that big back in front who can catch the football, can get you to four, five yards, and is a good, solid blocker, right?
We're fortunate. I think (Matt) Hahn fits that category. He's not the biggest guy in that position. He probably plays at about 230, 235. We've had guys that were 245, 250 up there do some things. But he catches the ball well. He can make the cut. If you give him a little room, he'll get you eight, nine yards.
I don't know whether the fullback will ever be out of it. We're in a trend. Football, we're all copycats. There's no bigger copycats than football coaches. Now everybody is spread out, shotgun, the quarterback is doing all the work, all that kind of stuff.
So, fullback isn't the guy he used to be. There's no more Bronko Nagurskis or the kid that played down at Syracuse, last time we played down at Syracuse. The big guy that was such a good pro.
When you get those kind of kids, you use them. If you had one, you don't have a great tailback, you use them. They can do some things.
The fullback is not as big a player now. The H‑back came into it where you took a guy who was a big guy and you put him in the wing, put him in motion, became a tight end, became a wingback, became a fullback when he got around the guard and went in the flat. And there's a lot of kids like that. They run :4.8. They're not speedsters.
The team that's probably done the best job with a kid like that is Southern Cal. Southern Cal has had some guys that can really run. I'm talking :4.5, :4.6, kids that are 235 pounds, that were probably high school tailbacks. They had so many tailbacks they don't use them there.
But, boy, they stick 'em in the slot, put them in motion, put them in the backfield, give them a couple steps, throw the ball to them in the flat, do a couple things like that, even do it on wheel routes. He can beat a linebacker down the sideline.
I think there's always going to be a place for those kind of people with talent. But as far as just a straight old‑fashioned fullback, I don't see a lot of them.
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