Barry, you’ve made your feelings very well known about the idea of running up the score, things of that nature. As a voter, do you give more weight, would you give more weight to a case of a team running up a score versus a team like yourself where you know that restraint has taken place?
“I vote on who I feel deserves that spot, whether someone puts 28 points up, particularly late scores, once they have somebody down. That doesn’t impress me or it really doesn’t turn me off. That’s just someone’s prerogative. I know some coaches just feel like that’s their offense and that’s what they’re going to do. And I won’t punish, I wouldn’t punish anybody for that. I just don’t happen to believe in it.”
Have you ever had the score run up on you since your time here, in your belief?
“Not that I can remember. I know one of my coaches felt that one time at Ohio State early on in ’91, and actually I thought we played pretty well with a bunch of freshmen. I thought we really gained something out of the game and moved the ball well ourselves. But I don’t think anybody’s tried to run, I don’t think so.”
Have you ever been tempted to run up the score on someone?
More than once?
“Yes. I’m going to tell you, guys, to me, I just, I’ve seen so many crazy things happen. And even last week, you know, there were four minutes left to go in the game and I’m worrying about getting the first down. I’m worrying about winning the game. It wasn’t, you know, this game’s in the bag, we’re going to move forward. I just have visions of some of the crazy things that have happened in this sport and I don’t want it to happen to us.”
Do you think in some ways that philosophy, whether it’s you or any other coach who has that, sometimes gets penalized in terms of the whole image and perception? For example, you look at a team that maybe scores 42 but gives up 35 but still wins. I think people, maybe you would agree with this, find that sexier or more, you know, tells more about what a team can do.
“I think a lot of times people don’t look at the right-hand score. They take a look at how many points they scored. And we get upset if somebody puts, you know, somebody may score on the twos. Over the years, you fight like crazy to get a shutout and then all of a sudden you have your twos in there and somebody puts a couple scores on, you’re really upset. No one notices that. They look at the left-hand score and what, and that you won.
Whether you’re penalized I don’t know. Possibly. Because people don’t have the opportunity, I don’t have the opportunity to see everyone play. Pretty close to it though. You have a pretty good chance to see most of the Top 25 play or parts of those games or replays of those games, so you have some idea of what people are doing. But I don’t know if everybody watches all those games.”
I think you guys faced (Michigan State quarterback Damon) Dowdell two years ago and what’d you think after more closely examining the game with him in there?
“I think he’s, he’s a very gifted athlete. You know, he’s the kind of quarterback that I personally like, a strong arm, fast, he can hurt you a lot of different ways. You know, their offense has changed from what they ran a year ago. You know, they’re still going to throw the ball and spread you out, but they have featured the run more, and, surprisingly, even a little option attack involved. So with his athletic ability he creates a lot of problems for you.”
Is their running, are their running backs similar to Minnesota’s in this regard that they, it seems like they rotate a lot of those guys to keep those guys fresh, if you look at the yardage they gain and the carries they have?
“Well, that’s the similarity, is they use a number of them. Totally different scheme. Probably totally different types of backs also, but they do use a number of backs.”
Coach, can you talk about the mentality of winning games in the fourth quarter, because Michigan State’s lost their last two when leading in the fourth quarter and you guys have done very well in the fourth quarter?
“Well, a lot of that is attitude and emphasis. We went a couple years where we lost a lot in the fourth quarter, and we’ve tried to put an emphasis on the fourth quarter and on competing and on finishing. That’s one of our goals, is to win the fourth quarter. If you study, you know, if you study patterns, teams that win the fourth quarter normally win. And so that’s been an emphasis for us.”
Barry, I think on your TV show yesterday you mentioned about you were impressed that John L. Smith had his team ready to play against Ohio State after a tough loss. Now they’ve got back-to-back losses. And I think you’ve been in that situation before. What struggles does he face this week in getting those guys back up?
“Well, I think just when you play so hard and you’re not rewarded over a period of time, there’s a tendency to lose confidence. But the thing, and I can go back further than that. You can go back to them losing at Rutgers right out of the chute, yet coming back and playing well. And, you know, they have rebounded a number of times, which tells me that he has his team and that they’re a resilient group.
“Because I just thought you just have to be mentally and physically drained after the Michigan game, as big as that in-state rivalry, on the road, you have the game put away, and still have a chance to win it in overtime. I mean, to rebound in overtime to have a chance to win and don’t, it’s tough. And then get down 17 points and battle back tells me they’re very resilient.”
After that game he seemed to shoulder a lot of the blame. He said the coaching staff was to fault for that loss. Do you allow yourself to kind of step back and appreciate where you guys are right now, to appreciate where you are right now instead of being in that situation? Do you allow yourself that luxury at times?
“Well, I like my alternative, the alternative we have better. I’ve been on that side, been there before. You know, when you’re in this business you go through those. Everyone goes through the rough times. That’s part of the job and that’s part of athletics. It’s not always just, you know, having years like this where you string together things and you have some good bounces and fortunate enough to win some games. But that’s part of coaching and that’s part of learning in athletics, is learning how to bounce back and get up off the canvas and rally your troops. You know, every coach goes through that. Yeah, I do appreciate a year like this. It’s, these are fun.”
Barry, Michigan State’s defense has improved, their rush defense in particular. Could you talk about that a little bit?
“Well, when you take a look at them, you know, again, very physical defensive front. You don’t get much movement. No one gets much movement on their defensive line. They’ve moved some people around as far as linebackers, so they have some, they have a couple stop linebackers in there that are physical yet they have some speed.
Tyrell Dortch is playing outside linebacker now. It was a running back. He was a defensive back when he was injured here. Now he’s playing outside linebacker or stepped off and playing linebacker, which gives you tremendous speed in there. So without much movement up, when you don’t get much movement on the front then you’ve got linebackers that can cover a lot of ground, that’s going to improve you, you know, against the rush.”
Barry, you talk frequently about your receivers and their unselfishness and it shows up in little ways like Brandon Williams hustling to throw that block, and I think it was on the (Tony) Paciotti reception. How do they buy into that year in and year out? Does it start with Henry (Mason), or is it the kind of kids you bring in, or do they realize that when they get here?
“I think it’s a combination. I think when you come here, you know you’re going to get some throws, but you know also that you probably won’t get on the field unless you block. And Henry does a good job of selling a team concept, and I think that’s one of the things that we sell and we talk about. It’s not just coming here to catch passes if you’re a receiver. You’re going to be a team player and you’ve got to contribute whether we’re throwing the ball or not, you know.
“I don’t believe we have any selfish players. And it all, you know, apparently seems to be a lot to do with who we recruit, but yet you still have to sell that, and I think Henry does a tremendous job of driving that point across. And we try to, we too try to do a good job of pointing out and commending the receivers when they do a good job of blocking and not just when they catch the ball.”
Barry, after the game Brian White was asked about the, quote, unquote, mounting pressure that the team must be feeling these last few weeks. Is there really any more pressure now than there was, say, at Ohio State, at Purdue? I mean, does it . . .
“It doesn’t seem like that to me and I don’t see our guys playing uptight. They sure didn’t Saturday. I think it’s all about how you go about your approach. If you’re worrying about it you get out too far ahead of yourselves. But I think our emphasis and how we operate things allows you to concentrate on this game and no further and don’t worry about anything else. And we talk to them about it. We just want to play our game.
And, you know, I talked to them way back when we won three in a row, then four in a row. Every game you win, the next one is a bigger game, and when you have big games the key to big games is not make them bigger than life. All you can do is just go play. All you can do is go out and, we just want you to go out and execute. We don’t want a superhuman effort. Let’s just go, relax, and play your game. And I think our guys have bought into that.”
Barry, do you draw off of your experience at Notre Dame in these times too and your coaching with Lou (Holtz) as far as being able to handle that with your kids who are facing this for the first time?
“Yeah, I do. And we’ve been here before. You know, our ’98 team was 9 and 0. And we’ve been in, you know, fortunately we’ve been in big games here. I was fortunate enough at Notre Dame, that two-year stretch when I was a coordinator, we lost one game. We’re playing, you know, every game was for the National Championship. You start the season playing for a National Championship, and that’s how you’re gauged because you can’t win a conference championship.
“So, yeah, I did. I learned a lot of things about big games and how to handle big games and how to play in big games, and those are things that I’ve tried to carry with me and try to, you know, transcend those onto our players and make sure that they understand how you go about it, because there is a way to do it. There’s a way to handle it and a way that you can play uptight. And if you’re playing uptight, if you make it too big of an issue, then you don’t have much of a chance to win.”
Barry, was that kind of your philosophy in ’93 or have you learned more since then about it?
“No, we did the same thing in ’93. I think if you go back and take a look at ’93, we always talked about the next game. We weren’t really, it was, you know, when it looked like we had a chance to go and go to the Rose Bowl, I can remember going out to L.A. for a Roy Firestone show and all they wanted to talk about was the Rose Bowl. We still had to go to Japan to play a game to qualify. And I was very reluctant to do the interview and didn’t talk much in terms of the Rose Bowl because I knew you have, we had unfinished business. So I think if you go back and look at how we handled ’93, it’d be very similar.”
What do you say to Mike Allen to kind of get his confidence back if one of these last two games here comes down to a last-second-field-goal situation?
“You know what? I haven’t coached Mike. And probably the best thing for me is to stay away from the kickers, let Brian Murphy work with him. Brian feels as though he knows what the issue is with his technique and just let Brian coach him and not have many people talk to him. And Mike has had his hot streaks where he gets into a rhythm and he’s very good, and then when he loses confidence and he’s not in rhythm then he’s not. So, you know, we’re going to need him down the stretch and so that’s between he and his coach to get that worked out as far as fundamentals.”
Barry, Jason Jefferson has flown under the radar on the defensive line. Can you tell me from a coach’s perspective what type of player he is?
“He’s very, very dependable, very consistent. You know, he hasn’t flown under the radar as far as pro scouts and coaches that play against him or us. Obviously we grade him. Opposing coaches evaluate him. I think they’re all very impressed. The pro scouts are very impressed. But we know what we’re going to get from Jason play in and play out. He’s very, very consistent. He’s going to be physical. He’s going to run to the ball. He’s always going to give you a push. As a linebacker you know where he’s going to be. He’s going to be in his gap responsibility.”
It’s an 11-game schedule for most teams. Are you a fan of that or would you prefer that you have 12?
“I’m in favor of adding a 12th game, both as a director and as a football coach. And you know what? We in the Big Ten, the Pac-10 did a survey, I believe, this summer with their athletes and it was over 75 percent of the athletes wanted to add a 12th game. We have a survey that we’re just passing around through the Big Ten. And I think Justin gave it to our guys a week ago. I just saw results last week, and we’re at about 70 percent of our players want to add a game. Players want to play. You know, they want to play in games. They don’t want to just practice. Games are fun. That’s the fun part of it. But we are in favor, we will go down in record, but our chancellor is also in favor of it.”
You’ve talked about how dominating Erasmus (James) has been, and you said maybe one of the more dominating, someone said maybe one of the most dominating in the conference since Simeon Rice. When you look at the impact he can have in five plays, could you just put that into some, you know, perspective for us?
“Well, just think about this. He plays five plays in the game and everybody knows those five plays. Everybody in the stadium watched him. The TV camera had him isolated. And he was a factor in the game. He goes in for one play, he, you know, the tight end tried to block him, fans him, he’s in the quarterback space and bats the ball down. They double team him, triple team him, he knocks the quarterback down I believe three of the five times. He didn’t get sacks, but the quarterback knew he was there.
“To say he’s as dominating as Simeon Rice is an injustice to Ras, because he’s much, much more physical than Simeon Rice ever was or probably is today. No disrespect to Simeon Rice. Simeon Rice is a great, great pass rusher. We couldn’t block him. Yet Ras really plays the run very well, I would venture to say much, much better than Simeon did, particularly at this time in his career. But, I mean, he’s a guy that when he’s on the field the offense knows he’s on the field and has to deal with him differently than anyone else.”
Barry, just getting back to the way you were talking about how you prepare teams for this kind of situation, ’93, ’98, ’99, now, are there any one team more than another that you feel like can handle this a little better, a little looser, a little more has a temperament for that?
“No, all of them were pretty good. The ’99 team was a veteran team. Well, actually all of them were veteran teams. I can’t say any of them were looser or any of them got uptight. I think we got our point across to them. I think they all went about their business.
This group is a very confident group. And the thing that’s nice about this group, the defense carried it, I think ’93 our offense carried the team. Different phases were stronger in all those teams. The ’98 team, we were really strong on defense, good running game, great kicking game. It was a deceiving-looking team where the people didn’t realize how good they were because of the hidden yardage and stuff. Those guys were pretty confident. It was a hard, really a hard team to beat.
“This team started out with the defense carrying it. But I like, really like the way this team is finishing up because we’re getting stronger, hopefully we’re getting healthier down the stretch, and now with your offense playing and playing its best ball, I just like the way this team is progressing. But I think all of them have had the confidence and been loose enough to deal with success and big games.”