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Nov. 1, 2005

Al Groh’s Press Conference
November 1, 2005

I think you’ve alluded to the conference this year, just looking at some of the close games, a touchdown or less, it looks like about 10 of 15 of those games have been won by the home team. Do you think, that with all these teams clumped closely together, that that has been a deciding factor?
I would say that usually, the more closely matched teams are, it makes it just that much more difficult for the visiting team to win. If we did a survey on it and talked about road wins, usually it’s the superior team that wins. That is, they were going wherever the game was played. When the teams are very even, and little edges that determine it-now that little edge could be a play during the game or a kick you run back-just the familiarity with and the lift teams get from playing at home, and all those different circumstances, I think, plays into it.

Does that encourage you at all, considering you have three straight home games?
Certainly I see it as a positive. It would encourage me more if the teams weren’t quite who they are.

Before the fall, did you think that the offensive line would be one of the stronger units on this team, because of what you talked about in the spring?
Well, I had some concerns relative to matching our efficiency of last year, based on personnel circumstances in the spring that dictated that our practices were much more pass-oriented than run-oriented. And, then, through competition, which was a good thing, but through competition during training camp, three of the five positions on the offensive line were looking different than what they looked like starting out. That is, in terms of putting together the type of continuity that is beneficial to the offensive line, it really didn’t occur in the spring. And, it really didn’t get as much progress towards that in camp, or then once the season started with certain guys being unavailable as what would be what we would prefer.

Left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson set the bar pretty high, in terms of how a true freshman performs on the offensive line. How has left guard Branden Albert done as a true freshman and just as an offensive lineman?
Pretty much as you’d expect, that is, he’s a talented player. So, as a talented player, he’s doing some things as you would expect a talented player to do. He’s also an inexperienced player, and he’s doing some of those things that you would expect him to do. And that was somewhat the case, although D’Brickashaw certainly had an outstanding rookie campaign in handling all the things amazingly that were thrown at him as a left tackle, then he also had some moments where he was a little overmatched. I remember we went up to Penn State, and he was playing against former Penn State end Michael Haynes, who ended up getting drafted in the 1st round of the N.F.L. Draft. And, the guy was just a little bit too much physically for him. And, now, Brick was way down. I can remember having a conversation the next day just to try to put it in perspective and make it a confidence building thing, and say, “Hey, look, this was about nothing but the wait room. And, one of these days, it’s going to be reversed. You’re going to be playing against a promising young defensive end, who’s going to be a really good player, you’re just going to be too much for him to handle.” And, so that time has come to pass. The cycle has gone all the way around. Branden is finding some of the same circumstances.

Are you hopeful that with Ferguson now back, center Brian Barthelmes back, and after an off-week, that maybe your offensive line might be one of your more improved units on your team going into this last phase of the season?
I don’t deal too much in hope, you know, just more in the reality of things, but in the necessity of things. For us to be able to play the kind of ball that has to be played in the month of November, that’s got to become the case. And, the elements of that unit have got to understand the challenges of that. I think that’s one of things that we all understand, that we’ve had periods here during the season that have been very good, whether they’ve been drives or games, and we’ve also had some periods and some things that have been not so good. And, so, from that respect, I think we all have to do better, okay, from the top down. We all have to do better during the course of this month. This always has to be your best month if you’re going to do anything. And, whether we had a bye week or we’re just coming from a regular game, there has to be an awareness that we’re going to do better through focus, and concentration, and preparation, and improvement. We’re just not going to flip a switch, and it’s going to get better. We’ve got to do tangible things to make it get better.

In a game where Marques Hagans didn’t have all of his playmaking abilities at his disposal against North Carolina, would TB Michael Johnson have been a bigger asset than he is in some games, because of his speed?
Yeah, I think, probably two of our three fastest players on offense, who did give us an edge the previous week, when we were playing against a very fast team, Florida State, without their availability, it did change some things. Marques’ circumstances had him not as sharp as he would be, which obviously then dictated in some circumstances what we were trying to do. It was pretty apparent at one particular time that it wasn’t probably going to be wise to rely too heavily on our passing game and the style of passing that we had been doing. That dictated us in another direction, but then that direction was a little undermined.

What do you see from Temple?
Right now, that’s all we’re looking at. Our focus is really hard on Temple. We see this as a critical game for the team. The emphasis with the players is to have the type of practice week and preparation that will have us ready to play our best game of the season. We are dealing with an alignment, defensively, that we will see in subsequent weeks, and that we have seen before, so we do have some carry over in that particular thing. We’ll probably, on a play-by-play basis, play against a lot more spread offense during the course of the game-three wide receivers and four wide receivers-than has been the case in many of our games, so that presents a little bit different type of circumstance for us being all spread out like that.

Do you see yourself maybe taking the opportunity during this game to try to improve on some things to get ready for the last part of the season?
No, as I said, our entire concentration is on this particular game. We see it as a very critical game, and a game that it’s important that we be ready to play our best from start to finish.

LB Kai Parham didn’t start the year on any of the watch lists like for the Butkus Award. Could you have gotten any more out of him than what he has given you?
No, he’s really done a fine job for us. His production is quite apparent to you in so many ways, obviously, as a regular down linebacker run-game wise. But, to have… I think he’s credited with 7 1/2 sacks, and he should have had more. That’s a pretty versatile player to have what amount to eight sacks, and all the run-production he has, plus he’s playing on the goal-line offense. He’s playing with the confidence and the ruggedness that befits a guy now that’s been through it for a while. I would say that the expectation is, with him, that the best is yet to come. I think there’s a lot more left in his game.

With all the turnover you’ve had at some linebacker positions this year, has his presence been even more important, just to lend some stability?
Oh sure, being the one guy with experience, to get them all lined up. One of your safeties and one of your linebackers really has a significant impact upon settling everything down and having the other guys to where they can rely on the call’s being made properly and quickly. And, he’s done a really good job with that.

Is he the kind of guy that could follow the pattern that former Elton Brown did, where he has a really good junior year, but makes an even bigger jump from junior to senior year and move into that All-American group as a senior?
Yeah, that would certainly be fun to see. We’d like that. That’s certainly an apt comparison to make.

Does it help when you’re scouting a team to see them play other teams you’ve seen?
Well, it does a little bit, in that we know the styles of the other teams. So, a lot of what you look at on tape, or even what you see in terms of statistical analysis of an opponent is dictated by how they perceive their game plan to be. So, whether you say, “Hey, look, this team’s running a lot of toss plays or …” or whatever it might be. Well, the only reason they’re doing that is because of the scheme match-up or the game planning they did. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to do that against you. And, so, but if we know the style of the team that they’re playing, we have a little idea of why they might be doing something. Then, we can make a further interpretation as to why that might or might not take place in our game. So, it is of some help. And, obviously, even though it’s a non-conference game, the fact that we played the team last year kind of makes it like a conference game. So, those two circumstances would probably give us a better familiarity than with a non-conference game normally played at this time of the year.

You spoke a lot in the beginning of the season about the youth of this team. Do you attribute some of that to the difference in play you’ve seen at home and on the road this year. Or, is that something that you really can’t use as an excuse anymore. When does this team no longer a youthful team?
Well, I kind of got the impression in August, when I said that we have more players of great experience-Kai Parham, Brennan Schmidt, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Wali Lundy-that actually we had more players that had limited experience than we’ve ever had before. Some people probably had the raised eyebrows look at that particular point, but, obviously, now the facts are proving that to be the case. We acknowledge that circumstance with players, but I think you allow them to be rookies or inexperienced… if you allow them to be of that mentality, then they just stay that way. We just try to emphasize that there’s a difference between what we refer to as exposure and experiences. You know, how many times do you have to go on the road to get a sense of what it’s like. You’ve got to do it for three or four years or two or three games. We try to promote the aspect that, after a while, it’s at home or away from home. It shouldn’t make much difference where the away from home is. I know in a lot of cases we’re probably talking how the coach wants to see it, rather than what’s going on with the kids going through a lot of transition in their lives anyhow, just the getting used to being in college and all of that stuff. We try to take that into account. But, it’s a good question; I don’t know what the formula is. But, it’s one for teams, because, obviously, in college football, there are no ten-year veterans. They don’t stay around for a long time. There’s always an influx of young players coming in. You’re always going to say we have a certain amount of young guys in the lineup. So, I think it behooves you as much as you can within your organization to make it a short process.

You called Saturday’s game “critical.” We obviously know why with your record and who you’ve got coming up. Do you convey that message to your players?
Sure, absolutely.

Are you worried about your players being tight because of that?
Hey, that’s what the month of November is in college football. It’s going to be that way every November. What happens in November is going to determine how it all writes out. Whether you’re 8-0 and you think you’ve got a chance to do something magical or you’re trying to play your way into a certain circumstance, the only time that those games aren’t important or as critical is if you’re sitting there 1-8 or whatever. So, that’s the reality of it. We’ve told them, “This is the way it’s going to be every November. This is fun. This isn’t something to get uptight about. This is fun. This is exciting. This is where seasons are made. This is where you’ve got to step up and put it out there on the field and show what you’ve got.”

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