COACH TOM HERMAN
COACH HERMAN: Never a dull moment.
Q. How have you managed it, at home, doing two jobs, how have you managed it?
COACH HERMAN: It hasn’t been terrible. The dead period, extended dead period from the NCAA has kind of alleviated a little bit of the stress from having to worry about getting guys out on the road recruiting and so on. So I’ve been able to focus most of my energy where it belongs.
And if it’s no disrespect, I’d rather stick to those questions regarding this game and our guys that have earned an opportunity to be here.
Q. You look at Alabama’s defense, what do you see?
COACH HERMAN: I see an extreme amount of depth. They are very big, very physical up front. They’ve got defensive ends that are weighing in at 280, 290 pounds. They’ve got defensive tackles that are 320, 330 pounds.
They have linebackers 255, 260 pounds. So they’re really big, really physical, very difficult to move. And they don’t just ‑‑ it’s not just one group that’s going. They’ll probably play nine to ten defensive linemen and two sets of linebackers.
So they’re very deep up front and then good mix of speed and size in the back end.
Q. Better than anybody you’ve faced, better than Michigan State?
COACH HERMAN: Better is tough to gauge. They’re different in terms of just the sheer size of their defensive line, it will be the biggest defensive line that we’ll have played.
Does that make them better, I don’t know. That’s for the result probably to decide, because they will have been so different from any other defense that we’ve played.
Q. Talk about challenges for Cardale there?
COACH HERMAN: Not a ton in terms of ‑‑ the challenges come when they bring pressure. The challenges come from reading coverages. I don’t know that the size and depth of their front six or seven is really anything he needs to concern himself with.
Q. Kirby Smart sat where you sat earlier today. And obviously their game plan or whatever, we know coaches talk. But he’s pretty much volunteered that several Big Ten coaches have been filling them in on you guys. Does that surprise you that your colleagues in the conference would share information or does that happen?
COACH HERMAN: It happens. It does not surprise me. We’re in this thing to give our guys the best advantage we can to win and whatever is within the rules we’re going to try to give them that advantage.
And if somebody that’s played us two or three times has a little nugget here or there that they can share with them, so be it. The last time I checked we were 24‑0 against those Big Ten teams in three years in the regular season. So it doesn’t bother me.
Q. Has any SEC team been helping you guys at all?
COACH HERMAN: You ask around. I don’t know that you like sit on the phone and game plan for hours at a time or teleconference. I don’t know what Kirby and them did. It’s none of my business, to be honest with you. Yeah, you ask around. What hurt them? You guys have played them. Friends, I’m not just going to go pick up a phone and cold call a guy at Tennessee you’ve never met this is Tom Herman at Ohio State tell me about Alabama. You’ve got buddies in the business and you call, catch up with, Merry Christmas, and, by the way, you guys scored 32 points against them two years ago, anything you saw that might could help us. So, yeah, it happens.
Q. Cardale, how has he evolved the last few weeks, leadership‑wise especially?
COACH HERMAN: He was on the cover of two magazines. I’m not sure. I kind of liked it when he was the underdog.
He’s doing great, to be honest with you. I think the confidence that he showed in himself, the confidence that we had in him as a staff and then for him to go out and put forth the performance that he did really just reinforced that.
So I don’t know that he has just emerged as this leader. He’s still Cardale. But just the fact that the confidence I guess was put to the test and he answered the test and so I think the guys kind of now ‑‑ it might have been, hey, we’ve got his back because we’re supposed to have his back, but now it’s, we have his back because we know.
It’s not a guessing game anymore.
Q. Do you worry about overconfidence with him, maybe trying to play outside of where he’s capable of in a game like this?
COACH HERMAN: I worried about that in the Big Ten championship game. Not maybe stemming from overconfidence, but stemming from my team’s counting on me to ‑‑ I’m the new guy. So I gotta do more than what is asked of me.
So I get worried about that, yeah, this week as well. But not due to overconfidence but more so that he thinks that he’s got to go out and win the game by himself, which he doesn’t.
And he showed that against Wisconsin. But he’s just got to reinforce that with him.
Q. You know the history of the game pretty good. Obviously Alabama/Ohio State, Urban and Saban, guys that did it better than anybody else in the last 12 years. Do you have an appreciation, first college football playoff semifinal night, do you have an appreciation kind of what is coming this way on Thursday in terms of the magnitude of the game and the programs and all that?
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, I think, peripheral level, maybe. But as coaches we get so tunnel visioned and locked into this singularity of purpose you kind of lose sight of maybe of all the things that all these cameras are here for and all you guys are here for.
But maybe when it’s over and kind of come up for air and take a deep breath, I think the enormity of it might sink in a little bit more. But I think you kind of know it but you just can’t even think about anything other than your tunnel vision.
Q. Does the layoff give Cardale any advantage getting ready for Alabama or does it give Alabama an advantage in getting ready for ‑‑
COACH HERMAN: I never knew what that meant in terms of defenses having to prepare for specific quarterbacks. I think defenses prepare for systems and plays and personnel groups and backfield sets and where the tight end lines up and what do they like to run on first down, what do they like to do on third and medium. They say okay this is this guy’s strengths, this is his weaknesses, maybe, but I don’t know that you formulate an entire game plan around that.
So I’m excited for him because he has had an opportunity now to kind of spend some time as a starting quarterback at Ohio State and sink his teeth into preparing to win the game and working out some of the things that he needs to improve on and got the rust taken off him pretty good in the Wisconsin game.
Now it’s his show and doesn’t really have much to prove.
Q. Almost four weeks between the Big Ten championship and this game, what do you expect to see in terms of these guys getting back into condition?
COACH HERMAN: Probably the biggest thing that you try to combat so much in bowl games is ball security on offense. We’ve got to take care of the football, whether it be in terms of fumbles and interceptions.
Ill‑prepared teams get sloppy a little bit with ball security. On the other side, maybe a little bit with tackling. Some conditioning, you haven’t really played a full game in a month almost. So as an offensive coach, ball security really is the one that kind of worries me a little bit. The timing and all that stuff, I think you simulate all that stuff at full speed in practice, I don’t know that that’s ever an issue. So really focused on ball security from an offensive standpoint.
Q. Saban’s defense has historically been some of the best or some of the best in all of the conference?
COACH HERMAN: They’re really good.
Q. They really are. If there’s been a style that’s gotten to them the last few years has been the style you play, spread, tempo, great teams, like Johnny Manziel, and other teams, certainly Auburn had success with them. Can you take anything from that with your style, the successes those teams have had?
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, you try to. A&M is a little bit different because they throw the ball so much more than us or Auburn. I think the one you look at is Auburn the most in terms of mixing the gun runs with tempo.
And they had yards, and I know they beat them two years ago to go play for the national championship. But last time I checked that was a tie ballgame with one second left or whatever it was.
So it wasn’t ‑‑ and then they lost this year. Yeah, they did some good things offensively, but at the end of the day it’s not like they found some secret formula that just blew these guys out.
Yeah, they had limited success, I guess, which is better than no success. You try to take from it as much as you can.
Q. How about Landon Collins what you’ve seen for him consensus all‑American first team?
COACH HERMAN: Yeah, that’s 26, right? Yeah, he’s really good. He deserves everything he’s got. I don’t know any superlatives that haven’t been said about him.
He’s a big, physical dude that can run and hit and really smart. He’s always around the ball. He’s everything you want in a free safety.
Q. Really active in the run stop?
COACH HERMAN: Very active. Their scheme allows him to do it and he just happens to be really good at it, too.
Q. Did you get a chance to visit with Lane Kiffin at all at the Broyles Award, have you ever met him before, was it the first time you described your perception of him?
COACH HERMAN: I had never met him. Spent a little bit of time, not a ton. They kind of whisk you in, you’re doing this, doing that. You go to this luncheon and fly home. So we chatted a little bit at the lunch, actually, while we were up there saying whatever they were saying that we were probably supposed to be paying attention to. Yeah, I never met him before but seemed like a down‑to‑earth genuine guy. Couldn’t say anything bad about him.
Q. You take a running quarterback against this kind of defense is an advantage? When LSU had that they were able to move the football with some kind of effectiveness against them in the past years. Do you think having that extra guy that they have to account for makes it a little difficult for them?
COACH HERMAN: Yes, and without being a smart aleck, that is kind of the thought process every week. It’s not just for Alabama. It’s for every defense to have to account for the quarterback in the run game and allow us to equate numbers or at least get numbers close to equal as we can in the run game.
So that’s kind of our philosophy. From a general standpoint, so will it help us in this game, we think so. But just probably no more than we think it would help us in any other game.
Q. Can you talk about your record against Big Ten teams since Urban Meyer arrived. Have you noticed a difference the difference between Ohio State recruits and the rest of the Big Ten recruits, because the prevailing times is that Ohio State looks like an SEC team?
COACH HERMAN: I don’t know what that means. Again, when you start putting your nose to the grindstone and you’ve got this tunnel vision even when it comes to recruiting, you really don’t have time to worry about how other people are recruiting or what they’re doing or the kids they’re bringing in. You just go about your business and recruit your tail off and try to bring the best players in the country.
We think we’re a program that merits the ability to go find the best players in the entire country whether they be in Ohio or Florida or Texas or Georgia or California or you name it, we’ll go find them.
With an emphasis on our footprint, obviously. If there’s a tie, so to speak, then we’ll obviously take a kid from Ohio or a kid from Big Ten country. But we’ll try to go sign the best 25 guys that fit our need every year and how other teams in the Big Ten do it, I’m not quite sure.
But I know that’s how we do it. And if that helps us, I’m excited about that.
Q. I guess what I was asking is there more a ‑‑ do you take more speed into account, because the Big Ten is perceived, whether it’s right or wrong, as a plodding conference.
COACH HERMAN: I don’t know, because I don’t perceive it that way. I know the guys ‑‑ to me we’re like every other conference. You roll Michigan State and Wisconsin and Nebraska out there, you are telling me Ameer Abdullah and the Coleman kid at Indiana and Melvin Gordon, that they’re plodders, I would argue that they’re not.
I would say those guys could probably play tailback anywhere in the country. So, I think we’re just like any other conference, we’ve got some really good teams at the top. We’ve got some teams that are just okay in the middle and then we’ve got some teams that are working towards getting better, to be politically correct.
And so I think that’s the same without naming names, I don’t know that there’s a conference that that’s not the case. Where you’ve got a few really good teams at the top and you’ve got most of the conference in the middle. And then you’ve got a few guys trying to get better. So I don’t think we’re ‑‑ shoot, I played Michigan State three years in a row. Those guys don’t seem very plodding to me. And the last I checked the Jim Thorpe award winner was from their school last year, first rounder at corner and we had a first rounder at corner last year. So I don’t fall into that mode of thinking.
And I will say this, they’ve won seven straight national championships, so they’re doing something right in that league. They’re elite. They probably have maybe one or two more elite teams than the Big Ten does. But you take our two or three elites versus their two or three elites, and I’m good. Let’s go.
Q. (Question in terms of getting the offensive line to where it was)?
COACH HERMAN: A ton, I don’t know how to quantify it, other than he’s a really good player. He’s a guy that comes to work every day, sick, achy, joints hurt, banged up, he’s played, Lord knows, how many game reps this year, probably 900 to a thousand game reps.
So he’s not a big “Win one for the Gipper” rah‑rah guy in the locker room. We have guys up front that are more like that, Jacoby Boren, probably more of a vocal leader and Pat Elflein maybe a little more. But I think Taylor is a really, really sharp kid that is one of the smartest O linemen I’ve ever been around and he’s really good.
And so I think just his steadiness of play and just the ability to count on him doing his job every single time he steps out on the field is just that confidence has allowed the other guys to kind of feel their way and grow into the roles that they’ve grown into.
Q. Do you tell your kids to play for themselves in this game, because there’s going to be a tendency with what’s transpired, they may want to play for you?
COACH HERMAN: No, I tell them to play for each other. We haven’t changed that in three years. And nobody’s going to change that. So I coach for them. They play for each other. And on a certain level they play for me every week, just like they do Coach Meyer just like they do Coach Fickell and Coach Warinner and all the position coaches we’ve got. A lot of teams preach about family atmosphere, I think ‑‑ not think, I know that this is the most lived of that culture that I’ve been a part of, especially this year.
The three years here with Coach Meyer, certainly this year, but certainly this team more than any other team I think has a selflessness about them that they really genuinely want to succeed not for themselves but for their brothers and for the coaches and for Ohio State and for everybody but themselves.
Q. Have you ever been a part of a program that hasn’t had that but still has success, or is this chemistry, they take a lot about it, is that essential to the kind of success?
COACH HERMAN: Elite success, yeah. I mean, like go win it all success, I think it’s paramount. And that is built on culture. That doesn’t just happen. You don’t just show up the first day of two‑a‑days and, hey, this team has really good chemistry.
You build that within your program over years and years of hard work and training and some teams get it more than others. Some leaders get it more than others. Some senior classes get it more than others. But it’s definitely a learned trait that we try really, really hard to teach our guys.
OL TAYLOR DECKER
(on the experience so far in New Orleans) “It has been a lot of fun. I’ve never been down here and experienced a city like this. There has been a lot going on. There has been a lot of ‘distractions’, but it hasn’t taken away from our preparation. We still have our goal in mind, but it has been a good experience so far.”
(on keeping focus in the playoff environment) “We know that we are here to play a football game, and if it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be here. That is our main focus of this whole trip. Yeah, we want to have a good time and experience the city and enjoy our time here, but the purpose is to play the game.”
(on the Alabama defense) “It is without a doubt the best defensive line we will face all season. It will probably be the best defense we will face. Incredible depth, they rotate all kinds of guys in there. On film, there are four defensive ends I will play against personally. They are really good athletes, big, strong guys that can move. They aren’t just space fillers. That is going to be a challenge as far as the offensive line is concerned, because it is the best we have faced so far. I think practicing against our defensive line has kind of helped us throughout bowl practice, because I think without a doubt we have one of the best defensive lines in the country as well. So I think that has been good in our preparation.”
(on what it means to be a part of college football history) “Without a doubt, I appreciate it. It is very humbling. In my time at Ohio State, we’ve won a lot of games and done a lot of things, broke a lot of records. I am just fortunate to be a part of this team and playing on this team. The week before, we didn’t even know if we were going to get a shot at the first ever college football playoff. It has been exciting and a really good experience.”
(on if the team takes being an underdog personally) “I wouldn’t say so. I would say that they have respect for us and we have respect for them. They’re ranked number one for a reason. They’re kind of the pinnacle of football right now, the standard. That’s deserved. They have done a lot of good things over the past couple seasons. It’s a great opportunity for us to show what kind of team we are and what we are capable of.”
(on the confidence of QB Cardale Jones throughout practice) “He has taken every rep, with the ones and twos. I definitely think he is going to be ready for any and all situations that he is going to face in the game. I think he is getting really comfortable with his checks and reads, not that I know a lot about quarterback, but he just seems more comfortable. He has gotten all kinds of reps since training camps. We run just as many reps with the twos as we do with the ones. So, he has seen a lot of the looks. He has played against a lot of different defenses. He just hasn’t gotten to do it on a big stage until the Big Ten Championship. And I think the way he performed then is a testament to how he has taken those reps seriously throughout the season.”
RB EZEKIAL ELLIOTT
(on being the most underrated player in the game) “I feel like I may be a little bit underrated, but I just attack every game as just a chance to put my name out there, perform on big stages.”
(on the importance of setting the tone of the running game early) “They’re a great team. They have a big front seven. You don’t really get much movement off the line of scrimmage. The key to our offense is getting the running game going so we can take shots down field, so establishing the running game is going to be very important.”
(on practicing in the Superdome) “It wasn’t too bad. A lot of the guys thought it was very humid and warm, but I didn’t feel any problems. I thought it felt fine. It’s a big dome; I mean I’ve never been in a dome that big. I’ve been in the Arizona dome and obviously the Indianapolis dome, but it’s a different venue.”
(on the Alabama defense) “They are a very big, physical team. Their d-line, their line backers are just big guys and so they are a lot bigger than the guys we play. Their line backers are all 250, interior d-linemen all 300 pounds, so getting some momentum early in the game, getting movement off the line of scrimmage is going to be important.”
(on Coach [Urban] Meyer advice on playing a [Nick] Saban-coached team) “They’re going to be good. They’re going to be the same talent level as us. They are going to be a well-coached, fundamental team; just going have to go out there and it’ll be our will versus their will.”
(on team having strong faith in Cardale [Jones]) “It’s just kind of the mentality of our team; you know just the brotherhood of trust. We’ve been through so much together, through thick and thin. He proved himself at the Big 10 championship. We’re going to do whatever we can to keep him comfortable. We don’t want him to feel like he has to do too much and he won’t have to do too much. All he has to do is spread the ball around and we have to keep him comfortable in the pocket.”
TE JEFF HEUERMAN
(on how you avoid distractions in a city like New Orleans) “Curfews. We have curfews at night which helps. Also, keeping the team together and make sure when guys do go out they are all together. The coaches haven’t said you can’t go out and have a little fun we just have to be smart about what we do. It’s Tuesday of a normal game week is how we look at it. [Being in New Orleans] is an education too. You don’t know if you will ever be back to New Orleans, so we have an opportunity to get out view the city and sample what it has to offer.”
(on SEC speed vs. Big Ten Speed or the preconceived lack thereof) “I’m not sure what it means exactly. We have quite a few fast guys on our team. I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to that or the talk about the SEC vs. Big Ten talk. All four teams [in the playoffs] are good football teams with strengths and weaknesses and anyone can be beat on any given day. You just have to come out and execute your game plan. Execution is the biggest thing.”
(on what he sees on Alabama’s defense) “They are a very good defense. They know what they want to do and they do it very well. They have a very good secondary. They don’t do a whole lot of crazy things schematically. They know what they want to do and they do it well and execute. It’s going to be a good challenge for us”
(OHIO STATE TE JEFF HEUERMAN CONTINUED)
(on Alabama’s defensive vulnerability and defensive performances late in the season) “They are a good defense. I don’t know much about their previous history. They have quite a few talented, All-SEC guys on defense. We just need to execute, honestly. We have the skillset and our execution is going to be the key to this game. Which team executes better and executes more plays will win this game.”
(on team’s success with third-string quarterback starting) “We have great leadership on this team. Every time something bad has happened to us we’ve just rallied even more. It has brought us closer together as a team. We’ve fought so much adversity and kept kind of building on top of it. It’s got us to the College Football Playoff and to the final four where we wanted to be.”
QB CARDALE JONES
(on scouting Alabama) “Countless hours, dating back to last year’s Sugar Bowl versus Oklahoma. We’re just trying to be ready for any and everything.”
(on whether it is an advantage, in regards to being scouted, to have only played in two games) “Nick Saban and Alabama’s coaches have seen it all. We’re not trying to fool anybody here. We’re trying to come out and play football.”
(on getting comfortable as the starting quarterback) “Of course game speed and practice speed is completely different. It’s so different for a quarterback. It’s more mental than physical to me, especially with the type of offense that we run. Just getting that to work from all the mental reps has helped a lot.”
(on what it means to be a starting quarterback in the Playoff Semifinal) “It’s humbling, because this is a point in my career that I always wanted to be at. Then again, we still have to get the job done as far as winning this game goes.”
(on the magnitude of this game for him) “Personally, this is the biggest game, hands down. It’s a one-game season, the first ever college football playoff. This is the game that goes to the national championship, so it is the biggest game.”
(on facing Alabama’s defense) “By far, this will be the best defense we’ve played against all year, the most physical defense we’ve played all year, and the fastest defense we’ve played all year. They’ve got some unbelievable guys on defense that we do our best to simulate and get that look. That’s going to be a challenge for not just me, but the offense.”
WR EVAN SPENCER
(on Alabama’s SEC speed) “They’re fast and they’re a great team. They’re really talented, but I think we’re pretty talented too. We got a lot of speed and we got pretty much everything we can do on the field, as do they, so I think it’s going to be really exciting to watch.”
(on getting tired about hearing about Big Ten speed) “Yea, I mean I do, but it’s out there and you just kind of have to deal with it. You have your own thoughts about it, but go with what’s there I guess and show up to play and prove everybody else wrong.”
(OHIO STATE WR EVAN SPENCER CONTINUED)
(on Urban [Meyer] modeling this program after Alabama) “They’re a really successful team and as of late they’ve been number one and they’ve proven themselves really. I think every team in the country for the most part is striving to be the best team in the country, and I think that’s just kind of the nature of football in general. I mean you want to be number one and when a team’s been number one for a while you want to get up there and knock them off and prove that you’re the better team.”
(on he [Urban Meyer] bringing up past battles with Nick Saban) “I mean it’s interesting to us and it’s good to look at on TV, but I mean he hasn’t really brought it up much because it’s different team, different atmospheres and really just different kind of feels for it. We got our things that we have to do well to win the game. They’re mutually exclusive in the sense that now is the present and we have to do what we can now. What happened in the past is past, but it does prove for a good storyline.”
(on noticing anything different with Coach [Tom] Herman since his announcement) “No, I mean he’s, I don’t want to say a happy-go-lucky guy, but he’s a really good guy to talk to. I mean he’s really personable and none of that’s really changed, so it’s the same old Coach [Tom] Herman we’ve known to love and that I’ve been with for three years now. So it’s weird to think about him leaving, but all throughout when we’ve been here it doesn’t even seem like he is, because we’re going day to day business as normal, and if nobody had told me he was leaving I wouldn’t have known.”
(on preparing for Landon Collins) “He’s a great player. He’s really physical and you can tell that he really knows the game, but I feel our offense has a good plan for him and the entire defense as a whole. He’s a great player and I look forward to playing against him.”