Mike Ekeler saw plenty in need of fixing after Indiana’s 15-point loss at Northwestern last weekend, but effort wasn’t on the list, nor was poise. The Hoosiers, he said, simply need to fix some basic technique issues.
Ekeler spoke with the media this week about the loss to the Wildcats, and about what he expects from Michigan State on Saturday.
When you looked back at the tape from last weekend, what jumped out?
Saw guys playing their freaking tails off, guys so damn close to making the play. Some things schematically would have liked to have revisited a little bit. The issue we had — not getting off blocks. They kept running the same damn slow-developing reverse zone. A play like that, if you’re getting off blocks and snapping of blocks, it’s not gonna (go anywhere). It just, we gave up a ton of yards on that, and that’s a frustrating thing. We’ve got to continue working on snapping off blocks and making better adjustments in the game right there. …
The thing I was most pleased with — we gave up a boatload of yards, is what it is — our guys played their (tails) off, and not one guy in there panicked, not one guy in there tossed their hands up. They kept coming and kept coming. And we’re in the fourth quarter, and we make a stop and give our offense an opportunity to go down there and tie it up. Say what you want. I’ll take all the credit — 704 yards, that sucks. It is what it is. But again, our guys, they’re coming along, and they’re gonna continue to come along, and we’re excited for another challenge this week.
When you talk about guys not getting off blocks, is it an issue of not using their hands well, or letting blockers get into their body?
Both. Exactly right. Just again, and I’m not pinning it on them, I’m just saying there’s a lot of different things that went in there. They made some great, competitive plays and we had guys right there. And then there were other situations, with what they’re doing, we weren’t snapping off blocks. Our backers need to hit it downhill and get in their gaps and take it, and that’s my fault. Again, people can say what they want, but I know where we’re going, and I know these guys, the look in their eyes, and I know that we’re making strides. And it may not show up in yards, it may not show up in victories right now, but I know what’s happening. I know it’s coming.
When it comes to getting off blocks, is there still maybe a size disadvantage for your guys?
No, not so much. It’s just more technique, and it’s more just, we’ve got to keep on working. When we you play this game, the biggest weapon you’ve got is your hands. If you don’t get your hands right, you don’t lock out on people and get your hand placement right and snap off blocks, it doesn’t matter. I guarantee you I could go out there right now, snap the (stuff) out of a lineman, throw him off, and I’m 96 years old. It’s just technique. That’s all it is.
As far as scheme, do you feel like your guys were playing good assignment football?
To a point. We got some on the quarterback run. They got us a few times when we would have liked to have given that end a little more help, but it’s one of those things. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. You’re helping him, you’re taking away from coverage, or vice-versa. We made some adjustments to try and give that guy some more help, and again, it wasn’t good enough. We obviously didn’t play well enough on our side, and it’s a team loss, any time you play like that on defense, and offensively. Special teams gave us a chance and getting some turnovers gave us a chance, but the bottom line is we didn’t put it together.
You guys obviously used a lot of nickel and dime packages. Did that make it harder to defend their rushing attack?
Not really. It’s just again, it all boils down to what you’re doing up front, and how you’re fitting up the run. It’s all the same, to be honest with you. It doesn’t matter.
What do you see from Michigan State at this point?
They’re big. They’re green. (smiles) Nah, they’re physical. They’ve got a tailback that is a big-time player. I’m watching to see if he might come out early (for the NFL Draft) this week. He’s a really, really good player. Their quarterback’s really coming along. They have some really fast receivers. Offensive line, that’s just who Michigan State is — they’re huge, physical, they’ll try and maul you. They’re a heck of a challenge for us.
What makes the back, Le’Veon Bell, as good as he is?
He’s big, he’s fast and he gets a lot of yards.
How much of defending their offense is just neutralizing him or taking him away?
They’re very, very multiple. They do a great job in the passing game. They’ve got a lot of weapons, so it’s not just one guy. Obviously, they’ve got a tremendous offensive line. They’re able to control the ball with a great offensive line and a great running back. But they’ve got a very capable quarterback with some great receivers. So they’re a balanced team.