"This is a very important game for us. It's the 99th meeting and game for the Victory Bell and it's something that our players take a lot of pride in and so we are excited to the opportunity to play. We know Duke, they are going to get after it. They are one win away from being bowl eligible, and they would love to do it against us."
One trend has been obvious in football this season is the offenses being up in yards and points. Curious how you see defenses ultimately being able to swing the pendulum back against no-huddle?
"Well, I think you'll see more defenses putting more athletes on the field. I think that's what you're going to see. They are going to try to personnel along with your personnel groupings a little bit more, get more athletes, guys that can make tackles in open spaces, which is obviously what the spread tries to take advantage of."
Do you see schemes more simplified or more complex?
"You know, not only are we talking spread but we are talking tempo. So you can't be too complex with what you're trying to do, because you've got to be able to do it and you've got to do it fast. Kids have to be able to process it.
"So I think what you see, teams doing simpler things and trying to put more athletic players on the field. It still boils down to personnel and it still boils down to guys making plays in open spaces."
From what you've seen on film, what makes Conner Vernon such an effective receiver for them?
"One, he's obviously played a lot of snaps. He's very comfortable in what they are trying to do. He can run. He's got a knack for getting open and he's got great hands. I mean, he's a guy that is very confident, if you put the ball anywhere around him, he's going to make the catch. And so I think, one, a quarterback has a comfort level there that if-- he may not be wide open, but all I can do is get the ball in the air where he can get his hands on it and he'll make the catch, and he's done that."
How much did you know about Giovani Bernard before you took the job? Obviously made a part in you taking the job but did you know him from recruiting or his press clippings or did you not know about him at all?
"I had seen tape on him when he was coming out of high school. Just like you evaluate any running back. So I had actually seen high school tape on him when he was coming out and then that year, he rushed for 1,200-something yards. I didn't keep up with the injury and all those things but he rushed for 1,200 yards throughout the season and was doing some pretty nice things for them as a redshirt freshman. That's something you see nationally and that would have been all there was to it."
What were your first impressions when you actually saw him practicing?
"He was one of the guys that I felt like-- I never like to make assumptions in spring ball, especially in the first couple days because you're in shorts and helmets, but he's one of the guys in shorts and helmets that it was a no-brainer. You know, the ability to see the cut-back lanes and see the holes to the shiftiness, the ability to make you miss, but also the ability to make in the distance, that was very obvious in the first couple practices."
How much do you feel you can use him? Is there a certain number of touches you would like for him to get each game, a certain number you wouldn't want to go over?
"Just depends on the flow of the game. I don't feel like at this point that he feels anywhere like we could overload him. I don't see that. One, he missed two hole games and so it's not like he is worn down or tired.
"And if you watch the way he plays, he's not taking a tremendous amount of blows on each and every carry. He's not one of those kind of backs. It's not the amount of yards that I'm always trying to keep track of. It's the amount of hits that he takes, because you only get so many of those in a season. So during the flow of the game it just depends on his production and how he's doing."
Heading into the season, your offensive line was perceived to be a strength of your team and certainly has lived up to that. Can you talk about the progress of your offensive line, and specifically the skills and ability that Jonathan Cooper has and what he brings to the table?
"The offensive line, there was a lot of talk about the offense, the up-tempo, how are these big guys that were recruited for pro-style offense, how were they going to be able to adjust.
For them it was -- and that was a big adjustment for them through spring ball; it was very difficult for them, because you've got big guys who are used to going to a huddle, relaxing, holding hands, and then coming, taking their time at the line of scrimmage and running the play. Well, totally, it was a shock for most of them and probably more plays than they had ever gotten in in practice and their lifetime. So it was a total shock.
"So as they trimmed down and got into better shape, they were able to excel. I think, one, the comfort level of being together, because a lot of those guys have gotten a lot of snaps together, they trust each other and know what each other is going to do and so they are able to excel and keep moving forward and now I think they are just starting to hit their stride.
"And Jonathan Cooper, I've been coaching a long time, I've coached some offensive linemen that have been drafted in the top-five or six in the country and Jonathan has some skills at the offensive guard position unlike any others that I've ever coached. He has tremendous feet. He has feet like a tight end, a very skilled tight end. There are quite a few tight ends out there that don't have the feet that Jonathan has. He's big and he's very intelligent and he understands what you're trying to do, and he's good at what he does."
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